The Case for BIM in Geotechnical Data

Incorporating geotechnical data in BIM allows considered design optioneering and refinement at the outset of a project; minimises geotechnical risk in construction and enables cost-effective repairs and maintenance of assets throughout the project’s lifetime. Image courtesy of Mott MacDonald.


Much has been said and written about the rise of Building Information Modelling (BIM) as a tool for building design and, more recently civil engineering, particularly for infrastructure design and construction.

It goes without saying that BIM enables better decision making during the planning and design stages of a project, throughout the construction process and into the operational and maintenance phases. BIM encourages true collaboration, which is essential to reap its full benefit: faster, more economical projects that have less environmental impact.

It might seem strange, therefore, that models sometimes appear to neglect the geotechnical aspects of projects. BIM often appears to start from the ground up, with the subsurface considered as an homogenous substance. This implies there is no risk in the ground, which is clearly untrue.

Of course, there is a host of benefits to applying BIM principles to geotechnical data management and including geotechnical data in BIM: it allows considered design optioneering and refinement at the outset of a project; minimises geotechnical risk in construction and enables cost-effective repairs and maintenance of assets throughout the project’s lifetime.

Dynamic Integration of geotechnical and site investigation data is now possible with the HoleBASE SI Extension for AutoCAD® Civil 3D.

More significantly, if there is a recognition by other project team members of the critical importance of high quality geotechnical information in creating an accurate BIM model, the messages that early and thorough site investigation can reduce project risk, and that geotechnical engineering is an integral part of the entire project, will be reinforced.

Using BIM also means geotechnical team members can collaborate easily. Data sharing and central data management can result in big improvements in efficiency and quality.

Geotechnical data management systems are available that can export both factual and interpreted data. Keynetix’s HoleBASE SI, for example (see box), can manage all of a project’s geotechnical data (including historical information) and its extension for AutoCAD Civil 3D allows visualisation of information such as geological surfaces for use in both BIM models and the AutoCAD environment.

Collecting digital data on site makes sharing simpler and faster.

The sharing of interpreted data appears to be one of the main sticking points of incorporating geotechnical information in BIM. While sharing of geotechnical data is common between site investigation companies, laboratories and geotechnical consultants, anecdotal evidence suggests sharing with the rest of the project team is less common.

It appears many geotechnical teams are reluctant to supply digital data (rather than written reports) with the wider project team as they are unable to separate factual from interpreted information. This means they are concerned by the possibility of interpretative data being misused.

In fact, better data sharing should actually lead to a more complete understanding of the project elements – resulting in more informed decision-making throughout the project lifetime – and improved collaboration should also reduce the risk of interpreted data being misused.

It should be recognised, however, that determining a geotechnical BIM strategy is difficult, as what works for one project may not work for another. It may therefore be a better approach to adopt a geotechnical BIM framework which can be adapted to each project.

Having a clear image of the proposed design and access to full project information will also enable the geotechnical team to optimise the various phases of site investigation. During the desk study, for example, being able to view the latest site plans, is clearly of huge benefit in highlighting any potential points of concern and can help investigation planning.

Furthermore, it is often very difficult, if not impossible, to change the focus of an investigation, without commissioning additional phases. Having access to field data in real time and incorporating it into BIM almost immediately gives the opportunity to refocus sampling and testing mid-investigation. This should deliver more useful data, hence reducing risk and potentially saving money in the long term.

BIM will, without a doubt, become the norm in construction projects in the future. One of the biggest benefits of its adoption will be to give geotechnical teams the opportunity to share their visions and concerns for the ground conditions early in the design, as well as to provide input throughout the project, including the operation and maintenance phases.

The geotechnical profession has been working for many years to improve the standing of geotechnics and for this reason, if nothing else, it should be embracing BIM and helping to improve the way geotechnical data is managed and shared in the future.

HoleBASE SI Extension for AutoCAD® Civil 3D

HoleBASE SI is a comprehensive geotechnical data management system that also allows users to produce logs, reports, charts and interpretations of data within seconds. HoleBASE SI allows management of geotechnical data throughout the lifetime of a project and gives access to historical information alongside current projects, transforming the way site investigations are archived and managed.

Geotechnical modelling in BIM can lead to more complete understanding of project elements.

The HoleBASE SI Extension for AutoCAD® Civil 3D allows quick and easy inclusion of all geotechnical and site investigation data in the BIM process and CAD drawings. The Civil 3D extension allows the rapid visualise geotechnical data, providing:

  • Geotechnical models for BIM
  • Dynamic Integration of geotechnical and site investigation data in the AutoCAD Civil 3D environment
  • Visualisation of geotechnical boring data, allowing creation of 3D borehole layouts and sub-surfaces
  • The ability to create dynamic geotechnical profiles and sections in seconds as opposed to hours
  • The ability to create Civil point groups and surfaces from any data stored in HoleBASE SI

The facility to use standard Autodesk Civil 3D commands to edit and manipulate geological surfaces and styles.