What If We Started the Panama Canal Expansion Today?

BIM Evolution for Wet Infrastructure

Overview of the Panama Canal Expansion

Completed in 1914, the Panama Canal currently handles approximately 5% of the global shipping trade. The purpose of the expansion project, including the Third Set of Locks, is to make it possible for the canal to accommodate today’s larger ships, referred to as “Post-Panamax” ships. The Third Set of Locks project includes two massive lock facilities — one on the Atlantic side and the other on the Pacific side — each with three chambers. Innovative design elements include water basins that save and reuse 60% of the fresh water used in the lock system and state-of-the-art seismic analysis. MWH, now part of Stantec, has worked on this project for more than 17 years, as it evolved from a concept to execution, begun in 1999 and completed in 2016.

BIM Integration

This project is one of the first large-scale civil works projects to deploy BIM, done at the request of Panama Canal Authority. The BIM process, together with the right people and technology, has supported the design team’s efforts to advance the state-of-practice on many components on the project. The BIM process allows for improved quality of design, increases productivity by efficiently managing design changes, and helps facilitate communication with clients and builders through visualizations.

BIM model organization for Panama Canal Third Set of Locks.
Using Autodesk Navisworks for design review and clash management.

Lessons Learned

As one of the first BIM pilot projects of this magnitude, we learned the software interoperability is a challenge, along with the learning curve of adopting new BIM tools. The design-build team did not start right away within the BIM environment because of the fast-paced project schedule with the conventional project planning and budgeting. Also, the software’s limitation back to 2010 caused us to spend extra time for lock wall/lock head modeling. Revit Parts was not available until the 2013 version and became more mature in later versions.

Comparison of without and with Revit Parts as tool improvement.

New Workflows for Wet Infrastructure — What if We Started Today?

BIM technology was used to implement the world-class Panama Canal Third Set of Locks project which includes massive lock complexes on the Atlantic and Pacific ends of the Canal capable of transiting Neo-Panamax vessels. Now, more than one year after the opening of the completed project in June 2016, it is timely to review how BIM has changed and the lessons learned from this project.

Workflow #1: BIM Execution Plan and Contract Agreement

Most successful projects start with well-thought-out strategic planning. The diagram below highlights the BIM usages and offering options during the different project delivery stages and lifecycle. It is important to communicate with all decision makers internally and externally with the same expectation even though the “BIM” acronym is not addressed in the contract. Nowadays, we do BIM as “business as usual” to a certain degree depending on the project, regardless if this is a contractual requirement or not.

Overview of BIM integrated project delivery.

Workflow #2: BIM Integration Maps

The beauty of BIM is not only about 3D geometry but also about the information contained along with the models. Every software application has its own strength to perform some specific tasks, and most of the time we use more than one during a project delivery phase. An efficient workflow with resolved interoperability issues is the key to success. The diagram below illustrates an example of the BIM integration map during the typical design phase of a hydropower project. It helps IT people to prepare all the software deployments and plug-ins before the project starts. In addition, it defines the specific output formats to translate the model from A to B platform with a purpose (i.e., CFD analysis or visualization).

An example of the BIM integration map (design phase).

Workflow #3: Site Information Modeling by InfraWorks (+ InfraWorks to BIM 360)

Data gathering is an important step after the BIM planning/BIM Execution Plan drafting. By using Autodesk InfraWorks, we build the site model for study and simulate our design virtually, and present the alternative design options with analysis results to our stakeholders. Autodesk InfraWorks has the capability to incorporate GIS data for planning and feasibility study during the early phase of design. It integrates traditional siloed data into a visually oriented, easy-to-use 3D intelligent site model to improve project visualization and enable broader decision making. InfraWorks also allows us to publish the model to the cloud for design collaboration and it can be viewed from a web browser and mobile device. With embedded hyperlinks in any design elements, we can connect and view the detailed design models and drawings, which are stored in a different data management system like SharePoint, BIM 360, or a private cloud server.

Panama Canal Third Set of Locks and Gatun Spillway (proposed) InfraWorks model.
InfraWorks model synchronized to BIM 360 Docs for markups.
  • Use points of interest (POIs) and Tooltip’s HTML editor in InfraWorks to embed the URL hyperlink of drawing documents on BIM 360 Docs. In this way, we create a site model with all information and linked documents available for reviewers.
Embedded BIM 360 Docs URL in InfraWorks model.
Mouse-over the points of interest in InfraWorks model to preview BIM 360 Docs.
Mouse-over the points of interest in InfraWorks model to preview the drawings.
Points of interest tooltip properties view in BIM 360 Docs/Autodesk viewer.

Workflow #4: Reality Capture (Point Cloud and Photogrammetry)

There are various tools and technology available to capture as-built information. We have been using the laser scanning and photogrammetry on a variety of projects after the Panama Canal Third Set of Locks project (at that time, the technology was not mature). The concepts between reality capture and reality computing are very different.

Reality capture BIM integration map.

Workflow #5: Use Revit Parts for Lift Modeling

By using Revit Parts, we can slice a Revit model easily with a sketch line by a reference plane in both horizontal and vertical directions. It represents the construction joints lines with the division profile options provided. We use it to produce the lift model/drawing as the concrete pouring sequence. In addition, we use it to define the second stage concrete because most of the time we do not know the size of the turbine until engineers finish some analysis during the middle of the design process.

Using Revit Parts to split the model after.
Displacement view by Revit.
Revit families and models for lifts, monoliths, and lock walls on the Panama Canal TSL project.

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