Lansing (Great Lakes News) – 3-D blueprints could become the standard for construction companies looking to work with the Michigan Department of Transportation. MDOT released a study showing that contractors who employ 3-D technology offer smaller and more accurate bids for construction projects. 3-D technology surpassed 2-D in almost every metric, saving MDOT and the people of Michigan $32.2 million during the studied period.

Despite recorded benefits from using 3-D technology in construction, MDOT still uses 2-D paper documents for their official contractual documents. MDOT could only justify switching to 3-D by finding tangible statistics showing the positive economic impact of 3-D technology. The study compared the efficiency of 2-D and 3-D plans from 2012 to 2016. Researchers directly compared the cost of bids issued by companies employing 3-D technology, the accuracy of project estimates, and whether or not the use of 3-D modeling resulted in a “significant financial benefit” for MDOT.

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“The initial benefits of providing 3-D models are more accurate bids and fewer change orders,” said John Wilkerson, engineering support manager of design services for MDOT and project manager on the study. “Leveraging 3-D models also enhances designer confidence, conveys design intent, and enables multi-disciplinary collaboration, public outreach and risk management throughout the entire program.”

3-D models allow contractors to give plans a level of nuance that was previously impossible with 2-D paper plans which make them easier to read and use. 3-D also makes it easier to adjust plans in real time and in conjunction with other digital technologies that provide accuracy like global positioning systems (GPS). This combination of technologies makes for a far more accurate assessment of the materials and time needed to complete a project. This accuracy makes it far easier for contractors to save money, and by extension bid lower on projects than they otherwise would.

According to the report: “Projects employing 3-D models in all categories regardless of size generated contractor bids that were lower than MDOT’s engineer’s estimates. Results showed that projects valued from $5 million to $20 million benefited most from using 3-D models.”

Over the course of their studies, the researchers discovered that contractors had concerns with MDOT making 3-D the contractual standard. The primary criticism being the difficulty of tracking changes made to the document. In response to these worries, the study provided a framework through which MDOT can inform interested parties on how to best use 3-D models in an efficient manner. Researchers are planning on turning these recommendations into a training curriculum to properly implement their recommendations.

According to the report: “Research results provide quantitative evidence that 3-D models generate more accurate contract bids and save money in construction projects of every size, by taking the steps described – training, outreach, multidisciplinary collaboration and careful contract development – MDOT could make 3-D models the official ‘communication of intent’ for construction contracts.”

Focusing on this path could save Michigan taxpayers millions of dollars and provide much-needed efficiency in the effort to fix our roads.