SNC-Lavalin's Atkins business builds automation into standard business processes

by David Light, Customer Success Manager, and Val Maass, Copywriter on April 12, 2018

Story contributors: Jérôme Chamfray and David Wright, Atkins - Member of the SNC-Lavalin Group. 


A year ago, Enterprise Business Agreement (EBA) customer Atkins - member of the SNC-Lavalin Group, wanted to investigate techniques and workflows for an Algorithmic Design approach—based on Autodesk technology—to linear structures (e.g. tunnels and retaining walls). Through collaboration with Autodesk, SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business has developed a portfolio of automated design tools which significantly improves efficiency and make schemes-wide options assessment and value engineering at project inception a reality.

Customer Background

SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business is one of the world’s leading design and engineering consultancies. Founded in 1911, SNC-Lavalin is a globally fully integrated professional services and project management company and a major player in the ownership of infrastructure. From offices around the world, SNC-Lavalin's employees are proud to build what matters. Its teams provide comprehensive end-to-end project solutions – including capital investment, consulting, design, engineering, construction, sustaining capital and operations and maintenance – to clients in oil and gas, mining and metallurgy, infrastructure and power.

SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business work with its clients to help them do things differently in a way that efficiently meets the needs of their business objectives.  Digital technologies are an enabler of this and, as specialists in the areas of design, build and asset management, SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business both develop technologies to enhance the way in which services are delivered and apply existing technologies to the built environment.  Many of its innovations are used by its clients directly, embedded into their own operations to improve the experience and value offered to its employees and customers alike.

Success Story

Challenge: SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business requested Autodesk’s assistance to investigate techniques and workflows for an Algorithmic Design approach—based on Autodesk technology—to linear structures (including tunnels, earthworks and retaining walls). A linear structure is any physical structure that can be suitably described by a linear path with such parameters as height, width, and material—including all types of fences, walls, hedges, beams, retaining walls, etc. The design development process can be very time-consuming and, should the design have to be changed mid-stream, the entire procedure may need to be restarted from scratch—which is detrimental to project programs and budgets.

SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business’ previous methodology for linear schemes was well-established and documented. The engineers would determine critical sections for design along the “linear” length of a road or railway. The process required the creation of cross-sections at regular intervals. The engineer would then determine the desired wall type and dimension, which was a very labor-intensive workflow. With a route of approximately 15 kilometers in length, more than 1,500 sections might need to be developed. When things change, which they often do, the revision process can be extremely time-consuming and inefficient.

Solution: Once the challenges and existing workflows were understood, Autodesk initiated a proof-of-concept (PoC) engagement around linear structures, and collaboratively agreed on a scope. The team then followed an agile delivery approach that included investigating several BIM-based concepts in the context of a typical ground engineering project and workflows. The areas of focus included:

  • Parametric model authoring for tunnels.
  • Parametric model authoring for earthworks and associated structures.

Each of the processes defined was investigated during the PoC. However, key success metrics were not necessarily established at the beginning of the PoC, as SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business believed these would be too disruptive and could stifle innovation. The team was mindful that it needed metrics to support any future scaling, so time savings were an area of focus. Now that the project is complete the team recognizes that the innovation and process optimization is sufficiently scalable to deliver benefits on projects of all sizes.

Success: For the geotechnical design of projects, SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business was keen to set up a system to automate the decision-making process regarding whether a retaining wall is required, as well as what the most appropriate type, position, and geometry would be. SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business also wanted the system to automatically create the wall’s 3D geometry in Civil 3D and to assign property sets with key metadata. Using linear structures, every part of the geometry was parameterized, including the slope and fill material behind the wall, the foundation below the wall, and the wall composition. Once this was done, the wall could then be placed and controlled in Autodesk Dynamo; the same process was performed for multiple wall types, including sheet piles, king post walls, gabion walls and pre-cast concrete sections. This solution provided not only automated outputs, but extensive BIM analytical data that results in a step-change for value engineering and assessment of options during initial stages of a project.

Through the Autodesk PoC, SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business has identified the right balance between software development and value added. The input from Autodesk has facilitated SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business to establish a portfolio of design options, which can be prioritized and automatically applied to a whole scheme alignment.

Following the engagement, SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business is now applying this technology to live infrastructure projects and is rapidly expanding its library of design solutions.

The linear structure solution enables us to be far more efficient and to fully assess options much earlier in the design process. The scalability of the solution will also ensure these benefits are not just restricted to major projects.”
Jérôme Chamfray, BIM Manager, Atkins – member of the SNC-Lavalin Group

Several essential benefits were realized during the linear structure engagement with Autodesk, including the following that SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business can now apply:

  • Provide all the benefits of Parametric Design, such as reduced time to change and to iterate.
  • Generate drawings rapidly.
  • Provide real-time 3D visualization.
  • Quickly accommodate design changes up the workflow should amendments or the need to consider various options arise.
  • Run quick assessment along the linear scheme and report the result in a multitude of formats.
  • Automate the design process.
  • Populate the objects with relevant metadata, such as asset data or construction information that can be filtered or queried later in the federated model.
  • Calculate earthworks volumes with greater accuracy.
  • Export and send the setting out information and 3D model strings to the contractor.

The collaboration with Autodesk has assisted SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business in taking another step in their wider digital transformation and represents one of many recent developments. SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business’ internal training processes have already allowed these skills to be shared widely and augment existing capability through a growing team of “digital natives”. The use of Dynamo is well-established within the broader suite of Autodesk products and SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business sees significant future growth in its use of technology.

Images courtesy of SNC-Lavalin.

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