R&D project shall halve the engineering time for infrastructure projects

Following broad political interest to considerably reduce today´s far too long planning time for infrastructure projects, a new R&D project aims to reduce the engineering time by 50%.

The project called “Concurrent Engineering in Infrastructure Projects” will, as its name indicates, facilitate to get as many of the engineering tasks as possible to be tightly collaborated and done in parallel – across disciplines and project players – enabling the planning time to be profoundly reduced.

Behind the R&D project – which is supported by the Norwegian Research Council – is a diverse group of regional industry leaders: Metier, Epsis, ViaNova Plan og Trafikk, Rambøll, Trimble (f. Vianova Systems), the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and the Norwegian National Rail Administration.

Great socio-economic benefits
The main objective of the R&D project is to establish an “industry-standard” planning and design methodology for infrastructure projects, including necessary ICT tools. More specifically, a new methodology manual and tools – that hopefully leads to the engineering time being halved. Given that the socio-economic benefits in this way can be realized much earlier, it may save society for huge sums of money.

Concurrent engineering Novapoint

Technology and methodology
“The innovation project involves developing new methodology and technology, as well as running several pilots”, says Kristin Lysebo at the Norwegian National Rail Administration (NNRA). She is NNRA´s project responsible, besides being responsible for 3D/BIM in their large InterCity project.

Kristin Lysebo, National Rail Authorities “We started the R&D project in spring 2016 and aim to finish it by the end of 2019”, she says. “The goal is to come up with practical results that will be good enough to serve the purpose.”

“NNRA is making several of its InterCity subprojects available for the pilots”, says Jan Erik Hoel, Trimble´s responsible in the R&D project. “The Rail Administration shows great expertise and enthusiasm to make the project a success.”

Building on BIM
“The project is to some extent based on the results from the national BA2015 initiative that was concluded barely a year ago”, he continues. “Some of the proposals from this project will be researched and developed further, primarily by exploiting BIM for infrastructure. 3D modelling is the core of BIM, allowing for tight, multidisciplinary and multiplayer collaboration, systematically based on a joint BIM model. The objective is to achieve maximum efficiency, without compromising quality in the engineering. On the contrary.”

“The transport infrastructure sector has been in a gradual process of change through adopting 3D modelling and BIM in recent years, but all the potential gains have not been explorer yet”, adds Kristin Lysebo. “A significant reason for this is that we have not yet quite managed to exploit structured collaboration and parallel engineering across disciplines and stakeholders, especially in the early planning phase.”

Concurrent engineering
“One method to achieve greater gains is to leverage BIM in combination with so-called Concurrent Engineering”, comments Jan Erik Hoel. “Concurrent engineering has been used with great success in the oil and offshore industry, as well as in NASA and the aerospace industry. But so far limited in the building and infrastructure sector.”

“3D modelling has been a maturing process for all of us”, continues Lysebo. “It is only in recent years that BIM has begun to take off in infrastructure projects. One contributing reason for this in this country is that we now have larger projects helping to drive the interest.”

Today´s tools no obstacle
“In parallel, new appropriate tools have been developed. In recent years we have seen extensive developments in BIM tools for transport infrastructure; such as Trimble´s  Novapoint and Quadri, but also similar tools from Bentley and Autodesk. Now there are no major obstacles with respect to tools and data formats that prevent us from working efficiently. The time is ripe to include the tools in the work processes. We therefore believe it is good timing now to invest in concurrent engineering”, states Jan Erik Hoel.

Resource-intensive, but effective
In short, the unique “thing” with concurrent engineering is that you gather all the decision makers and planners in frequent “scrum” workshops in project rooms that are configured for this purpose. Equipped with large wall screens and powerful workstations the project team jointly and systematically goes through the BIM model. The objective is to discuss ongoing design issues, conflicts and solutions, and to make unified decisions and implement new measures.

The beliefs behind this are that, together in a group process, all ideas will come up and be shared openly, enabling the best possible solutions to be found. Groups usually resolve tasks better than the individual.

“The challenge is that the design process is very resource-demanding and intense”, says Hoel. “Everyone must allocate adequate time and be well prepared, meaning you have to plan accordingly. Each meeting should however be relatively short because of the demanding work process, not more than 4-5 hours.”

Like a court trial
“The process can be compared to a court trial”, he adds. “All parties must be present and be well prepared in the court. And like a trial the meetings are intensive over a short period of time, with everyone present. The decisions are made there and then, or you withdraw to work more on certain issues, and then come back together to make new assessments.”

InterCity pilot
“The reason why we have offered to use the InterCity project in the piloting was that several of the participants in the R&D project were already involved in the InterCity project”, says Kristin Lysebo. “It was therefore convenient to test the methodology in some of the sub-projects. Besides, it will obviously be of great value for the Rail Administration if the projects can be completed faster.”

From planning and design to decision
In contrast to other Concurrent Engineering research going on today, the Norwegian R&D project is seeking to come up with a complete suite of processes and procedures to cover the entire planning and engineering process for infrastructure projects. The work will be done using pilots, tests with efficiency measurements, and collecting best practices in the industry.

“The processes of the different planning stages of an infrastructure project will have slightly different implementation methods since they involve different people, different information needs, and different detailing levels”, remarks project manager Erling Graarud at ViaNova Plan and Traffic. “In the early phase you will have a combination of politicians, landowners and professionals, whilst in the later construction phase you will mainly see collaboration between professionals.”

“Much of the methodology is based on technology and collaboration during planning and engineering, but some of the most important in the process is to identify and support decision requirements and decision makers. The methods and tools have to support appropriate and timely decisions, as well as documenting and recording these. This is essential in order to avoid that the reduced design time will not come at the expense of quality. On the contrary, the aspiration is that all professions, from geology to operation and maintenance, will get more involved and become timely policymakers and decision makers. The whole thing is a decision method as much as a design method”, concludes Erling Graarud. 

Concurrent engineering in Novapoint