How Geotechnical BIM Can Lead to Better Engineering

Our April blog  focused on the significant time and cost savings that can be realized by investing in geotechnical CAD and BIM.

Our Geotechnical BIM cost calculator shows annual savings for geotechnical specialists can reach tens of thousands of dollars.

However, these are relatively small when compared with the potential overall project savings, should a ground-related problem be identified during the investigation phase. Early identification can avoid costly changes to design that can arise when having to deal with problems uncovered during construction.

While the wider benefits of using geotechnical CAD and BIM can be difficult to quantify, they are certainly significant:

  • Desk studies and site investigations are more focused
  • Engineers can react faster to potential issues on site
  • A more complete picture of the ground can be built
  • Understanding of ground behavior is improved, leading to better design
  • Communications within the design team, as well as with the client and other stakeholders are improved.

Deliver value for money through focused site investigation

Site investigations are fundamentally about identifying anomalies in the ground that, if left unidentified, could add considerable cost to a project.

Geotechnical BIM can be a boon during the desk study, as it presents an easy way to compile and visualize data from a variety of sources – historic boreholes, site investigation reports, geological survey maps and so on – enabling a better understanding of what is going on, even before a spade (or borehole tool) is put in the ground.

It is important that the desk study is carried out in the context of the project, so incorporating designs and plans (from the overall project BIM, for example) at the desk study stage can ensure that the site investigation is designed with the project clearly in mind.

This means a site investigation is building on (and enhancing) prior knowledge, rather than starting from scratch – it allows sampling, monitoring and testing to be optimized from the outset, offering better value for money in the long run.

collaborative working 

React faster on site to investigate potential issues

Nothing beats having a geotechnical engineer on site who can respond to what comes out of the ground during the investigation. Geotechnical BIM can play an important role in helping the engineer, as it enables results to be quickly visualized in context (if, for example, an area of weak, waterlogged ground coincides with a heavy load from a proposed structure), often within 24 hours, if not sooner.

This makes it easier to refine investigations as they proceed. An extra borehole can be sunk, more samples can be taken and instrumentation can be installed, for example, at relatively low cost. If data is only analyzed once fieldwork is over, it can be too late, and too expensive, to investigate further.

Get the complete picture

Geotechnics is like peering at a famous painting through pinholes; each one giving only limited detail. It is how these details are pieced together that counts when building a complete picture of the ground.

Geotechnical BIM offers two benefits in this regard. First, the ability to compile large amounts of data from different sources creates a more comprehensive 3D picture of the ground and second, the ease of drawing cross-sections (in seconds, not hours) allows the model to be viewed from a number of different angles. As a result, geotechnical engineers can gain a better understanding of the ground conditions and are more likely to spot any potential issues.

Alongside increasing the opportunity for identifying anomalies, estimates of material volumes and of contamination, can also be improved.

“On a recent residential project we could predict material volumes and optimize the final landform design to balance the earthworks, so there was no need to import material or dispose it off-site. For instance, we ensured there was enough top soil for gardens and soft landscaping, which would have been very expensive to import.”

Chris Smith, Technical Director, Wardell Armstrong

Communicate with the wider team to improve design and construction

The ability to visualize and share complex geotechnical problems within the design and construction teams can add value to the geotechnical data. A 3D model can bring the geotechnical report to life, enabling non-geotechnical professionals to relate to, and fully understand, how problems in the ground could affect the project and start to develop and optimize solutions to deal with them.

Improve the client’s understanding of the issues

It is important for clients (and other stakeholders) to understand the significance of any geotechnical problems. It is questionable whether the geotechnical report is the best way of highlighting these.

Geotechnical BIM’s ability to rapidly produce visuals improves the client’s awareness and understanding and should also increase the significance and bearing assigned to the geotechnical aspects of the project.

“Being able to use rendered images and fly-throughs of models was a real bonus, as the client could visualize the design and could have far more input in the process.

“We held workshops using video conferencing, making real-time changes to the model to explore different options. For example, we could change road alignments and see how this would affect the landform design and construction costs.”

Chris Smith, Technical Director, Wardell Armstrong

Geotechnical BIM: delivering better engineering

Clearly, a fully integrated, multidisciplinary BIM, including a ground model, can deliver significant value to both geotechnical engineers and the wider design team.

Geotechnical BIM’s ability to rapidly deliver 3D visualizations of the ground, from a variety of angles, offers the ability to reduce project risk and costs during construction. Site investigations are more focused and offer better value for money, the understanding of what is going on in the ground is improved and communication of complex problems to non-geotechnical professionals is far easier.

Ultimately, it is an important aid for geotechnical professionals’ and should increase the value of geotechnical engineering among the project team and in the eyes of the client.

To find out more, watch our presentation on the benefits of Geotechnical BIM  and how it can lead to better engineering.

Read our blog on uncovering the hidden benefits of buying new geotechnical software and download our Geotechnical BIM ROI calculator to help you evaluate the short, medium and long term benefits of investing in new systems


Recorded presentation from Geocongress 2017.   Register and then watch.



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