thumb seaportConstruction and infrastructure projects benefit through the use and application of 3D visualization. Context is an integral aspect when developing and creating visualizations, and understanding construction sequence, methods and plant, manpower and materials is required to enable effective representation of real-world construction processes. The link between client and contractor is easier to overcome when both understand the project, how it will proceed and what it will look like. 




The problem

In construction the main problem is turning ideas (drawings and specifications) into reality. Most of the workers and staff on construction sites are “hands on” and need to have a mental picture of what has to be built with the sequence, methods and plant, manpower & materials required so they can understand what has to be done. To effectively create something and solve problems, for this reason visual learning is effective and the best learning method.

In undertaking a project, a team of people, with various abilities and understanding of what is involved, will need to communicate with each other how the reality of the project will come about added to this they may be language barriers Other problems in construction are - communicating how something that is only an idea is to be built and the associated problems. Knowledge and knowhow gained on construction sites is not captured and shared.

Site staff and workers need to be trained on what to expect when they go onto site and the safety risks and control measures to reduce the probability of injury and accidents. Bar chart programmes have too much information in a form that cannot be readily understood or communicated. Information has to be in a form that the person on site who has to do the work can understand. 

I have witnessed on many occasions when the client or his representative has asked a contractor how he is going the build something and how long will it take, to which the reply is, we will give you a method statement and a programme as a way of not answering the question. The promised method statement might only rephrase the specification, saying that we will do such and such without saying how. The promised programme contains thousands of activities without a comprehensive list of resources and outputs that must be the most tiresome document to make sense of in construction.

Construction programmes are more and more being produced by people who are experts in using programming software without knowing what is involved in getting something built, the resources required and the outputs. Without the site team’s commitment to meet milestones, programmes are of little value. 

Important visitors to site such as clients and government Ministers want an overview of progress and the problems that might be delaying the project so they can focus on getting problems solved, getting things back on track and saving money. Compartmentalisation of the site team’s functions is a problem where now you have separate departments or individuals looking after site works, procurement, interface, planning and progress monitoring, health & safety, plant & equipment, document control, human resources. Things that have to be done fall between stools and lead to inefficiencies. Site team members can lose sight of the big picture. 

I have attended site meetings where problems with construction were discussed and it was obvious that most of the attendees did not fully comprehend the construction processes involved, 3D visualisations would have been beneficial to demonstrate the problem and lead to a quick understanding.

The solution
As a way of overcoming the above I make technical films with 3D visualisations, animations, infographics, timelines, photographs and video footage to show how work activities and projects were and are constructed. The projects range from airports, seaports, motorways and railways, oil and gas pipelines, gas processing plants, metros, in-situ piles, bridge construction, post-tensioning of bridge decks, roofing, operation of precast yards and quarries and more.

The films fall into the category of ‘edutainment’ and contain engineering educational value which site members and students find of great interest. 3D Visualizations and films are the best way to capture someone’s attention and make a lasting impression. People will remember and understand something that they see and hear, than read. The main obstacle to learning is our short-term memory can only hold typically seven items for 15 seconds before they are forgotten, also people get bored viewing or hearing the same thing after 6 seconds. 

For the past six years, I’ve been working for international construction companies in the Middle East on billion-dollar oil and gas, motorways, sea ports and aviation projects. As part of my work, I was asked to write articles and make PowerPoint presentations showing how it was intended to carry out works containing methods, sequence and the resources. This developed into producing short films containing 3D animations, photographs and video footage.

The films are used for tender presentations, for supporting contractual claims, as site inductions to familiarise staff and workers with projects, to show progress, to demonstrate construction issues with proposed designs and for promotional purposes. The films are generally shown at workshops, conferences and tender presentations. 

Recently, for example, I prepared a film for a major international Oil and Gas Company as part of a constructability presentation, showing how a gas-processing plant and export pipelines will be constructed that included the resources to be employed and timelines for the various activities. Now some advice on creating animations and films and taking photographs. To produce 3D Animations I use SketchUp as I find is easy to use, intuitive, and you can import 3D models of plant and equipment from the internet.

There are very good tutorials showing how to use SketchUp on the net making it easy to learn. When editing films change the scene every 6 to 10 seconds. When taking photographs take long, mid distance and close up shots. Best to take photographs of an object showing the front, side and top “like an isometric drawing” including a person for scale. Keep the sun behind you so the subject matter is lit and without shadows. For film voice over I use the text to speech function in Microsoft word. 

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is now a popular topic in the industry. Having a 3D model of a building or an oil and gas plant is a great way to see and understand what it will look like when it is build and to see any problems with the design or construction. 3D walkthroughs are effective in communicating the design intent to the site team and stakeholders prior to the work starting. 

Information & Communication Technologies in the construction Industry. For years PowerPoint presentations were used to transfer information as part of the construction process. Now it is possible to make bespoke construction documentary type films using video footage taken with smart phones and inexpensive cameras and made into film with inexpensive video editing software.

Visual Communication in Construction using visual aids is powerful to inform, educate or get a message, vision and policy across, or to persuade a person or audience. Photographs are good tools to make or emphasize a point or to explain a topic. A video is probably the best visual aid and attention grabber. Visualizing the sequence of construction is a great help with interface issues on a complex site where different subcontracts have to work in the operational area of a Client such as a live Airport on a Railway System.


The uses
3D Visualisations and Animations can be included in technical films and PowerPoint presentations and used for the following purposes. Tender Presentations showing how a project will be constructed. Including sequence, methods, plant and timelines. Constructability studies. knowledge capture and sharing. Project familiarisation. trouble shooting, Brainstorming, and aid for decision making. Preparing method statements and safety risk sssessments, programming and getting commitment from the site team as well as sequencing work activities. Organising resources by seeing what plant and manpower is required and when proving delay and disruption entitlements. Other examples include reviewing and recording progress. Producing infographics for workshops, meetings and conferences and company promotional purposes. 3D Animations can be used for technical and safety induction training to familiarise new employees with projects, also can be used to evaluate risks and to perform financial and safety risk assessments.

3D animations can be shown to students who may be considering Civil Engineering or a related discipline as a career, so they can quickly get an overview of what Civil Engineers do. Clients and governments are now insisting on Designers and contractors producing 3D Models to show what projects will look like and how they will be constructed. Project stakeholders who be clients, banks, suppliers, bond and insurance companies may not be trained or able to visualise 2D drawings and need to see 3D models to build a mental picture and understand the construction processes and design intent.

Visualisation is beneficial in getting the public to accept the inconveniences involved in a construction project and to realise the short term nuisances will be outweighed by the long term gains. 



Author: I started working over thirty years ago in Civil Engineering Construction, when there wasn’t any mobile phones, computers, safety boots or helmets. In those days we worked from drawings and specifications. Early in my career I was put in charge of large projects in Ireland. My approach was always to think ahead and ensure that the required resources, subcontractors and materials were lined up. For me discussing with the site team what had to be done and finding the best way forward was important to get the cooperation and commitment to meet deadlines. Developing a mental picture of what to be constructed was essential to know how to tackle a job. Proper planning and organising is essential. I worked on Motorways, Bridges, Reservoirs, Pipelines, Sewerage & Water Treatment Works, Marine, Buildings and more.  Along the way I acquired a pilot’s licence which helped me get a job on an Airport Project in the Middle East. From there I worked in the Oil and Gas industry. I have made technical films that show methods, sequence and equipment used to construct various civil engineering and construction projects. I use 3D animations that illustrate how a project will be / was constructed along with video footage and infographics, as a way of sharing knowledge and knowhow gained in the workplace. I have always worked for Contractors. I have written a book entitled Project Planning Organising Tracking.

YouTube Video Site: I have made and uploaded the following films onto YouTube as a way of sharing Knowledge. BIM in Construction has many uses including - knowledge management in Civil Engineering, Metro Station With Diaphragm Walls, Civil Engineering Introduction, Gas Processing Plant How to Build, Runway Construction, Asphalt & Concrete Pavements, Sea Port Construction, Road & Bridge Construction and more. These films have received thousands of hits from across the world.