06 NOV 2019


Construction and engineering companies operate in an increasingly uncertain and resource-constrained world. Alistair Roxburgh asks whether the industry can afford not to use virtual site planning.

Construction and engineering companies operate in an increasingly uncertain and resource-constrained world. They often have to respond – at short notice – to fast-moving military and humanitarian challenges with limited time for planning. 

Whether it’s the design of a temporary military base or refugee camp or quickly rebuilding a road after a natural disaster, virtual planning can help us identify the most suitable sites, designs and most cost-effective options quickly, from our own remote desktop. 

So why use virtual planning? There are five key benefits to this approach: 

Optioneering: To design infrastructure in remote, austere locations or in constrained brownfield spaces (such as airbases), you still need the right information to scope robust concept options early in the design lifecycle. Virtual site planning can help you explore and assess options for such sites, while also finding ways of overcoming construction road-blocks by simplifying logistics, maximising energy efficiency and reducing the site’s carbon footprint. Increasingly, artificial intelligence and machine learning can be used to improve the speed of this optioneering process, optimising and automating some of the workflow.

Safety and Security: Safety and security features can be designed-in from the outset with best practice safety guidance being built into the workflow. The physical security of sites can be assessed using line-of-sight analysis and incorporating it into the developed designs. Blast and ballistic engineering analysis of standard and bespoke temporary infrastructure can reduce the risk to site users.

Collaboration: Thanks to digital tools, designers, decision-makers and users can access a 2D and 3D model of a site, resulting in a collaborative approach to the assessment and review of design options. It also allows the user to conduct pre-deployment rehearsals, ensuring issues can be sorted out before construction. 

Speed: When temporary infrastructure becomes part of a demanding operating environment – such as a major humanitarian incident – time is critical. Thanks to the collaborative approach and optioneering available through virtual planning, the timeline of a site’s design and construction can be reduced.  

Cost: Digital tools can optimise real estate and resource usage and limit project risk. We estimate that use of Atkins’ Rapid Assessment and Planning for Infrastructure Design (RAPID) virtual planning software could reduce construction and maintenance costs by at least 5-10%. By planning things virtually, factors such as construction and maintenance costs, schedule, bills of material, and water and power consumption can be compared by decision-makers for different options.   

Virtual site planning can also help plan major events such as a music festival, where digital tools could help evaluation of routes, sight lines, acoustics, health and safety, logistics and stage locations.

By combining these master-planning tools with more traditional engineering skills and BIM tools as required, we can radically change the way temporary infrastructure is planned, assessed, reviewed, designed, constructed and operated. Such an approach will unlock many benefits, especially in terms of cost and time savings. Can we afford not to use virtual planning? 

Alistair Roxburgh is a solution architect with Atkins.


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