The Power of 3D: A Historical Perspective on the Future of Digital Inspection

Tobias Weinberger
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3D technology has revolutionized how we visualize design. That much is plain to see. However, 3D technology has added a game-changing dimension for collaborative work in engineering. It helps to remove guesswork and uncertainty while pinpointing exact locations of damages in the field of digital inspection. Explore the history of the third dimension and understand the limitations of traditional methods. Expand your vision by adding some perspective and explore the power of 3D!

2D Drawings: Mapping their value 

For centuries, engineers and architects have derived relevant information from 2D drawings. Drawings have typically been the main facilitator of information between an originator and other relevant parties. Consider a pertinent historical example: maps. Maps contain dense spatial information that makes the design more processable for us. We could read an entire book explaining in great detail the shape and topology of the continents. However, one glance at a map and all the details described across dozens of pages of writing are revealed instantaneously. Drawings of buildings work in the same way in the Architecture Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry.

To know the spatial dimensions of a building, we need drawings, explaining enough details to an observer for them to be able to answer the following for themselves: “Where is something?” or, even more so, “where is it in relation to another object?”. Drawings provide more clarity to these questions while also leaving room for feedback and notes from editors.

The inefficiencies of analog

Decades ago, drawings were made on paper sheets and stored in large archives. Until this very day, plenty of infrastructure asset holders and architects are plagued with the laborious task of digitizing their analog records. Luckily, in the era of digital information exchange, archives are no longer needed – at least not in their traditional, physical form. Nowadays, drawings are circulated as PDFs, DWGs, or in other digital formats that make archiving and exchanging of data among the various participants of infrastructural projects easy, uncomplicated, safe, and fast.  

However, sharing drawings among many parties can also have its downsides, creating an array of misunderstandings. Can the recipient interpret the drawing in the way it was intended? Is the information on the drawings up to date or outdated? Is it possible to combine the drawings with additional drawings from different, related fields of knowledge, like the electricity or climate control system of a building? These issues can end up leading to a need for extensive back and forth communication between a sender and a recipient, leading to time wastage and cost hikes.

The future of building asset management is in 3D

In the future, 3D drawings will become the holy grail of efficient information relays. We humans have been navigating through space in 3D our entire lives – it is only natural for it to emerge as a common language in how we represent the world. Looking at a 3D model of a bridge, for example, leads to an immediate understanding of the structure even for people without knowledge of engineering. However, looking at the same bridge on a paper is a lot less comprehensible for people without expert knowledge.

The AEC and Facilities Management (FM) industries are building on the potential for 3D-based information exchange. Going back in time, the 3D representation of built objects began in the 1970s (Volk et al. 2014), with the technological adaptation of 3D Computer Aided Design (CAD). Since then, the visualizations have evolved significantly to arrive at accurately depicting images as they are conceived in the mind of a designer. The journey from “mute” models to models enriched with semantic information about the built object is especially noteworthy.

This journey has led to an incredible potential for use and storage of information in 3D. In the AEC industry, this process is known as Building Information Modeling (BIM). A related term that comes to mind when talking about digital modeling of physical assets is the term, “digital twin”. Both these technologies are at the forefront of the discussion surrounding the future of building asset management.

STRUCINSPECT embraces 3D for digital inspection

At STRUCINSPECT, we believe that more sophisticated communication of 3D information is the future of digital inspection, ensuring more efficient and accurate results. Our advanced digital inspection tools enable the creation of digital twins while providing an underlying BIM model, if required. In addition, we understand how essential it is to locate and identify critical damage to a structure.

We use 3D technology, such as digital twins, to map damage, making it easier for inspectors, asset managers, and infrastructure owners to assess structures and decide how best to manage them. Having as much relevant information as possible is essential to guiding the necessary decision-making. And when it comes to structural inspections, when time, money, and – especially – safety, are on the line, making the right decisions is the key.

Take digital inspection to another dimension.

(Volk et al. 2014: Building Information Modeling (BIM) for existing buildings – literature review and future needs – in Automation in Construction, S. 110) 

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