Underground construction technology is becoming more capable and dynamic than ever before, thanks to the advanced capabilities of building information modelling (BIM).

While working around buried structures and components is challenging by nature, BIM offers opportunities for making it much safer, more efficient and comprehensible.


1. Contextualizing Underground Structures

The most obvious benefit of implementing BIM construction technology is the ability to integrate underground structures into the big picture context of their surroundings. BIM is already a go-to tool for visualizing and designing above-ground buildings, but bringing below-surface items into that imagery gives a clear representation of the project, from top-to-bottom.

Underground components need to integrate with and adapt to the requirements of the primary structure above them. Including them in the project’s BIM will ensure everything is accounted for in the design. After all, some of the building’s most important elements, such as water lines, are buried.


2. Less Invasive Construction

Traditional trench excavations can be a highly destructive process that is disruptive to the local community and even the surrounding environment. Trenchless excavation methods, such as microtunneling, are far less invasive. These processes are much easier to put into action with the aid of BIM.

Above-ground tools can be utilized to gather data on buried structures or earthworks. That information can be used to create a detailed digital model where things like pipes and tunnels can be carefully mapped out. This advance planning enables a swift and inconspicuous excavation process.

Additionally, thanks to the accessibility of the whole-building context with BIM, any necessary changes or updates to buried structures can be just as easily mapped out before any further excavation takes place.


3. Improved Safety

One of the top benefits of BIM in the construction process is its functionality for conducting risk analysis. Risk analysis becomes a significantly more thorough, reliable process when engineers and risk managers can assess the entire building with advanced features like heat distribution and layered imagery. This has a direct impact on overall project safety. For example, a risk manager might use BIM to automatically identify all locations on the structure that present a significant fall hazard to construction contractors.

Unique risks for buried structures can be identified, as well. Underground construction technologies for imaging, like LiDAR or GPR, are particularly helpful for this process, along with GIS. This has already proven extremely useful for reducing risk with components like waterline systems.

The data from LiDAR, GPR, and GIS acts as eyes and ears below-ground, limiting the need for human team members to risk venturing into potentially unstable tunnel systems. Ground-penetrating imagery fills in the information gap and enables safety and risk analysis through BIM to be a whole-building assessment.


4. More Sustainable Construction

The last few years have seen a surge in demand for more sustainable construction, particularly from consumers, who influence the decisions of stakeholders and project owners.  Building has a significant impact on the environment, from how materials are sourced to energy consumption on project sites. BIM provides an opportunity to meet those calls for sustainability in underground construction.

As mentioned above, traditional trench excavation is not particularly beneficial for the land surrounding it due to its destructive nature. BIM can refine and optimize trenchless operations, enabling significantly more environmentally friendly underground construction.


5. Optimized Collaboration

One benefit of BIM that many construction teams around the world are taking advantage of is its capability for dynamic collaboration. BIM brings together several kinds of documents that would otherwise be viewed separately, such as exterior design, HVAC system mapping and heat distribution analysis. Having all this info in one convenient digital format ensures that everyone working on the project is viewing the most accurate, up-to-date information.

Assessing design changes and adjusting for them is significantly easier with BIM than paper blueprints. It can be especially challenging in underground construction to notice when parts of the buried structure have been altered, but BIM makes that visualization convenient.


Dynamic Underground Construction Technology

BIM is becoming one of the most versatile and valuable tools in the building industry, and its potential can be amplified further by including underground construction integration. It’s come a long way over the years, but BIM represents a whole new level of connectivity, visualization and functionality.