Why Civil Engineers use 3D Mapping

Last updated on

September 28, 2016


Using 3D mapping enables civil engineers to reduce the amount of time it takes to design, analyse and maintain an infrastructure, or implement any changes. Information-rich, intelligent 3D models are capable of spanning the infrastructure’s entire lifecycle, from the initial planning stages through to operation and maintenance.

Civil engineering professionals can enjoy a clearer understanding of project performance by maintaining more consistent data and responding faster to change.

Civil engineers using 3D Models

Use 3D mapping in civil projects for surveying, analysis, designing, drafting, documentation and defining workflows. It can assist with corridor design, gravity pipe networks, pressure pipe networks, bridge modelling, rail track layout and geotechnical modelling.

It enables civil engineers to transform civil design models with visualisation for surface modelling, reality capture and base map creation. Using 3D mapping helps optimise project performance by evaluating more “what if?” scenarios.

When starting a new infrastructure project, a complete and accurate base map is crucial to the success of the project. With today’s environmental, safety and sustainable design considerations, a wealth of data must be included.

Base map drawing

With a variety of data types, such as imagery, GIS, tabular, survey and legacy hard copy items, it can be a time-consuming aspect of the project. It can be challenging getting all the data into the base map drawing accurately and quickly.

The use of 3D mapping can enable civil engineers to connect all of the data types to use in the base map drawing. It makes it easier to gather information, such as the centre lines of roads, soil types, boundaries, zoning limits, control benchmarks, contours and high-resolution aerial photographs.

Unmanned aerial vehicles

In recent years, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, has grown rapidly for civil engineers and across the construction industry. The information gathered via a drone can help the construction and engineering processes through the whole spectrum, from pre-planning the project to marketing a commercial site or property.

Drones can help with a wide range of activities, such as health and safety, site inspection and planning. Industry experts are constantly exploring future uses of drones in the construction sector.

Drones are able to scan objects that are inaccessible, or not visible from the ground. These can include roof-tops and high structures, for example. This will allow a complete set of data to be achieved quickly and safely.

Site inspections

Thanks to the drones’ mobile nature, any data captured by a UAV will suffer much less from shadowing caused by nearby objects. A scan from a drone is the quickest and most cost-effective solution to producing a single, shared 3D model.

Using drones in a construction environment can support the field engineers in carrying out site inspections. They are especially useful when automating surveys on large sites, or on sites that have restricted access.

In the civil engineering profession, a team of professionals can liaise to ensure the safe operation of the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). These can include health and safety, field engineering and safety professionals. Ideally, they are trained to Civil Aviation Authority standards to ensure they are able to safely operate the UAVs.

High-risk areas

Drones can assist with various construction practices, one of the main ones being the site inspections. By performing close inspections of high-risk areas, combined with fast overviews of large construction sites, the drones free up time so that other tasks can be carried out.

In the case of health and safety induction, the site plans can be updated efficiently and quickly to demonstrate where the different works are taking place, including excavations and lifts, so that the site operatives can stay safe.

Drones can also carry out inspections of cranes, towers and scaffolding. This is a much easier and more effective method of inspecting structures that may be particularly high. The drones provide real-time footage and can spot any anomalies quickly. This can reduce site downtime while also reducing the risks of personnel working at height.

360 degree views

In terms of site planning, drones can provide overviews quickly to inform those present at planning sessions. They provide 360 degree, panoramic views. This enables personnel to enjoy a much more immersive experience, enhancing their understanding of site orientation and potential hazards.

Other uses of drones include in logistics planning. When construction sites are large and may change rapidly over short periods of time, the drones will provide a dynamic, real-time visualisation, with the ability to highlight any potential issues that may otherwise have been overlooked, such as large plant movement, for example.

Live feeds

A major benefit of drones is that live feeds can be beamed directly into the control room. This is useful in the case of certain inspection requirements, such as crane clearance, personnel movement and logistics. It enables real-time decision making.

This can save time in that it can prevent errors from occurring, reduce unidentified risks and improve quality by enhancing the decision-making process.

The majority of civil engineering professionals agree that UAV technology has the potential for many other uses in the future. New ideas are being explored all the time. Currently, drones can be programmed to receive regular firmware updates that unlock the latest features, such as 3D modelling, or automatic panorama creation.

Future developments

Designers promise there are many more functions still to come. Future uses for drones are set to include point cloud scanning capabilities and volumetric measurements of site items, such as excavated materials. This will support the logistical planning of their removal.

Other uses of drones could include thermal imaging scanning. This would provide scope to monitor the “health” of construction sites safely. For example, any hot spots could be identified in electrical sub-stations.

Waypoint flying is also an option. This means enabling the drone to fly the same path, creating time-lapse opportunities and comparative analysis. Drones that can film upwards are also in the pipeline. These would enable the inspection of overhead structures, reducing the need for scaffolding or cranes.

In short, UAVs are essential in today’s construction sites in providing an aerial overview of projects. This means the sites can be monitored to ensure safety procedures are adhered to, obtaining extremely accurate data. What’s more, they are cost-effective, making them a crucial addition to a civil engineer’s tools, now and in the future.

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