autodesk point layout: perfecting software in an imperfect world
by trevor lunde | theme: delivery

At GLY, virtual modeling has without a doubt transformed the way our teams interact—positively influencing collaboration year after year. The ability to experience, problem solve and verify a building in a virtual environment before a shovel touches the ground, a slab is poured or a system installed, is a luxury none of us could have imagined just a decade ago. Today, virtual modeling tools are more integral to the delivery process than ever before.

GLY Project Engineers and Project Managers are as comfortable with our modeling suite as they are with any everyday software utilization and we love working in this virtual environment. The best part about this software? Discovering new ways to use it.

Builders at heart, it’s our natural instinct to make do with what we are given and innovate to make things work. We wouldn’t be where we are today in the application of virtual modeling if we didn’t stretch our thinking and test out unexplored ways to use the software.

Most importantly, we share our findings. When it comes to perfecting modeling software—especially one that needs to work with such an imperfect world—we all have the same goal: make the tools as efficient and relevant to our needs as possible, which is why we give feedback to the software developers who look to us, the end users, for ways to improve.

Design Manager Trevor Lunde

Design Manager Trevor Lunde.

We can extract an x,y,z coordinate at any point in the model to a robotic survey station and it will precisely locate that point in the field. The process also works in reverse. We can load points shot in the field into the model for comparing as-built conditions with the intended design.

However, to think that the controlled environment of the virtual world seamlessly translates with conditions of the real world would be foolish. Concrete settles and shrinks, steel cannot be fabricated and installed absolutely straight and true, and the weather does what it wants. There is inevitably a certain amount of real world influence that is unavoidable, but is acknowledged through allowable tolerances outlined in specifications and industry standards.

GLY fosters close relationships with software developers to achieve mutual benefits for both developer and end user. They want to improve their applications and we are interested in more efficient and effective tools.

Exporting points from a model to locate items in the field and vice versa—importing points from the field to compare design locations —is quickly becoming a common practice for contractors. Autodesk’s Point Layout [originally developed by GetThePoint and acquired by Autodesk in 2013] is one of several software packages capable of doing this; but, it wasn’t the easiest process at first, nor did it provide the easiest method of analysis.

The Scenario. Contractors frequently use software similar to Autodesk Point Layout to as-built concrete floor slab for quality control purposes. However, since nature happens, concrete slabs are never dead level; there are always slight variations.

The Original Solution. Not too long ago, the as-built produced was typically a basic floor plan with a series of positive and negative numbers at surveyed locations showing the slight deviations from the design. While useful, this quantitative [numeric, image 1] analysis was tedious to analyze.

What if? GLY’s team of Integrated Design Engineers wanted a tool that allowed qualitative [visual, image 2] rather than quantitative analysis so we developed our own process to generate a visual interpretation of a floor slab. The drawback? While easy to analyze, it was tedious to produce.

The question arose: could GetThePoint [prior to Autodesk’s acquisition] somehow find a happy medium? Producing an analysis that is both easy to make AND analyze?

Eureka! The software already had a numerical form of output for analysis. We hoped they could write a routine that would output the data graphically. We approached them with our request and provided an example of one of our graphic analysis.

In the next release, they incorporated this new tool as the Slab Analysis tool within Point Layout.

Slab Revit 1

All graphic representation is stripped away + replaced with actual data that can be used by the field to make adjustments.

Slab Revit 2

Gradient represents differences in height from one elevation to another.

Of course, we couldn’t stop there. If there’s one way to look at things, there’s always another. It often takes a unique situation to alter our assumptions and serve as a catalyst for innovation. As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.

It didn’t take long for us to find our unique situation. One of GLY’s recent projects hugs a lake and is surrounded by hills, presenting particularly challenging conditions for excavation.

We began to notice mineral springs bubbling up through the bottom of the excavation, raising a big concern: is this percolating water also behind the shoring walls, potentially compromising their integrity?

To answer this question, we needed to get a virtual peek of possible activity taking place behind the walls. But how?

What if the software used to analyze a horizontal surface [i.e. a floor] could be applied to a vertical surface [i.e. a wall]? Without hesitation, we shot a series of coordinate points vertically alongside the axis of the steel shoring piles and imported them into the model.

It worked! We were able to exploit the software to analyze a vertical surface as if it was a horizontal one and generate a variance report on the vertical surface between the real world points and their intended position.

The resulting information analytically, dimensionally, and visually told a story of the field condition. The precise and visual analysis proved to be an invaluable tool when discussing how to monitor and address any further activity.

The variance showed evidence of the wall bowing out wherever there was a grouping of mineral springs. While the variance was mere fractions of inches, it was enough to provide clear physical evidence of correlation between the location of the springs and the integrity of the wall.

It was easy for us to see pockets of impact, severity and location. We regenerated this picture every week to see if conditions were stable or if they were deteriorating.

Fortunately the picture showed the initial disturbance had stabilized and we were able to proceed with a high degree of confidence that the activity behind the shoring wall was not impacting structural integrity.

Shoring Analysis

GLY survey crews shot coordinates and monitored the vertical axis of the shoring piles, indicated by the black markers above. These coordinates were used to reference against the same x, y, z coordinates in the model to generate a variance report shown with a gradient color pattern.

Soldier Pile Wall Analysis

Blue = walls were pushing away from the excavation; Green = walls within tolerance; and Red = walls were bowing into the excavation.

The invaluable ability to rest assured knowing that the foundation of this high profile project wasn’t in danger was possible due to some innovative thinking on our part. The next natural step in the evolution of this discovery is to share it with the programmers at Autodesk, who seek feedback on the software from everyday users—especially when the program designed for one purpose is creatively applied for another—and it works.

Since our earliest forays into virtual design in construction, GLY placed an emphasis on developing collaborative relationships with the developers of the software that is shaping our industry. We continuously provide feedback and brainstorm together to incorporate useful new features and improve overall product performance.

One of the most rewarding aspects of our work is continuously seeking to improve quality, service and delivery. We’re at our best when faced with a thorny challenge, and have the most fun when we’re solving it with other like-minded people.

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