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Visualizing the 4th dimension—time—for better decision-making

Kerry Himes | 15 May 2017 | Comments

How can designers start solving the unsolvable problems from just a few years ago; how can we stretch the limits of what is possible? While technology can make our jobs easier, it’s also a moving target, and we must evolve with it. Nowhere is this more imperative than when facing the challenges presented by the U.S. military.

Improving defense with technology
Technology is particularly important for military construction and program management. The Department of Defense oversees a vast network of bases, installations, and other assets. These facilities are huge, often sprawling thousands of acres and employing hundreds of people to help meet critical mission requirements all over the world. On top of this, installations are constantly undergoing renovations and new construction to meet current needs and prepare for future growth. Improved visualization of these facilities in real time, including troop movements on base, vacant buildings, and renovation activities is crucial for our clients as they coordinate construction programs.

Enter Atkins’ 4D visualization and support tool (4D VIS), an integrated project information portal that leverages web services and cloud computing to support large-scale program management. Developed specifically to help the U.S. military manage a multibillion-dollar base realignment at the historic Fort Belvoir in Virginia, 4D VIS combines design data (via a 3D model) and project construction scheduling data so designers, project managers, and planners can quickly identify opportunities and potential conflicts in a 3D/4D environment.

4D VIS is one of the few tools to combine exceptional 3D visualization capabilities, ease of access, and streamlined single point data integration. As a customizable web portal, 4D VIS combines tools that are fundamental and extremely useful to the design professional or program manager, including multi-site views, custom ground planes, and drawing and object creation capabilities. 4D VIS also enables clients to visualize threats, risks, and “what if” scenarios in a virtual environment.

We have successfully deployed the 4D VIS tool on multiple federal projects, most recently at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. We utilized 4D VIS to develop construction logistics for the Cadet Barracks Upgrade Program, a nine-year, $700 million program to transform West Point’s historic cadet barracks into 21st-century facilities. Using Google Earth maps as a foundation layer, 4D VIS built additional layers of information such as building locations, floor plan layouts, road networks, utilities, and construction schedules. This enabled us to incorporate all barrack renovation and construction projects, ongoing and planned maintenance projects, GIS information for all utility infrastructure, cadet activities, and major academy events.

Our use of 4D VIS geospatial tools resulted in significantly more effective decision-making during the planning phase, ultimately translating into a high-quality project completed on schedule and budget.

The future of 4D VIS
While 4D VIS has proven to be a valuable tool for past and existing clients, it is important to keep enhancing the tool’s functionality and technology to meet both current and future challenges.

One area of program management that will inevitably grow is the amount of data that will become available to designers and planners. As large data sources become available, it is important to leverage the capability of 4D VIS and other tools so they can provide a real-time look at current conditions at any level.

As in all things tech, making things mobile is a long-term goal. As web tools and mobile apps become more prevalent, allowing users of 4D tools to upload and view data through a mobile device will ensure field teams and project managers have access to the latest updates and data sets whenever and wherever they may need them.

Success will also be measured in how well we adapt this technology to other industries where the fourth dimension—time—is a critical element. Transportation, transit, education, and aviation are all industries where project impacts, sequencing, and costs are key, and 4D VIS offers a solution. Looking forward, 4D VIS and other advanced visualization platforms could be the missing link for asset managers of all types.

Watch Kerry Himes talk about the benefits of 4D visualization how it can lead to better decision-making for clients. 

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