3D modeling helps bring flat, 2D ideas to life. Unlike most other industries that have successfully transitioned to automation, the construction industry is a sector that still gets a lot of its work done manually. Besides being time-consuming and the greater potential for waste, manual construction is on the expensive side too and overshoots the construction budget pretty much always.
3D modeled construction projects benefit from better lead times, costing, stability, and safety. The technology offers architects and designers more space to experiment and be creative. Drone technology, coupled with 3D modeling, can also be used to review ongoing construction work constantly.
Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of using 3D modeling in construction, things you should consider before incorporating the technology into your construction project, and the right modeling tools for the job.
What is 3D modeling?
A subset of CAD (computer-aided design), 3D modeling is creating three-dimensional representations of shape, surface, or physical object using a computer and specific software. In general, 3D modeling makes product designing a lot more efficient.
The various modeling programs let you to:
3D modeling is essentially the precursor to 3D printing. 3D modeling can be used in a range of applications, mostly to make or visualize different parts. The modeling technology can be used to communicate material types, dimensions, etc. to anyone who views the designs. It could be used for making control paths for CNC (computer numerical controlled) machines.
How Does 3D Modeling Work?
3D modeling entails employing specialized 3D software to manipulate an object’s edges, vertices, and polygons within a virtual 3D space. The 3D artist scans real-world items and converts them into digital objects with data points.
The model’s core is the mesh, described as a compendium of spatial points. These points get mapped into a grid and merged as polygonal shapes, typically quads or triangles. Each vertex or point has its own grid position, and by linking these vertices into shapes, an object’s surface is created.There are different ways to create a 3D model, but the following are the most common methods:
3D space points, referred to as vertices, are linked by line sections to create a polygon mesh. Most 3D models are created as textured polygonal shapes for their flexibility and because the rendering could be done quickly. Polygons, however, are planar or flat and can approximate curved surfaces only.
In modeling, curves define surfaces, and weighted control points influence those curves. The curve follows the points. By increasing a point’s weight, the curve is pulled closer to the point. The types of curves include splines, patches, NURBS (non-uniform rational B-spline), and geometric primitives.
A relatively recent 3D modeling method, digital sculpting, can be further categorized into three types: displacement, volumetric, and dynamic tessellation. These methods ensure a true artistic exploration. The model gets a new topology over it after formation, and the details get sculpted. The fresh mesh usually has the original high-resolution mesh data converted into displacement or regular map information.
Benefits of 3D Modeling in Construction
The architecture and construction industry uses 3D modeling to demonstrate proposed landscapes and buildings instead of using conventional physical architectural models. The technology could be used to create 3D models of worksites, such as designs for basic single-story houses and even complex building designs.
For extensive structures, complex 3D modeling software can be used – which entails designing structures with arches and unique extensions. 3D modeling can also be used to create 2D images, thanks to the 3D rendering process. If you are working in the construction or architecture sector, 3D modeling programs are imperative.
Here are some of the major benefits of using 3D modeling in construction:
Greater Machine Control
3D modeling enables a lot more efficient, cost-effective, and accurate machine control. Equipment such as backhoes, bulldozers, and excavators can be outfitted with computers, and the buckets and blades equipped with GPS devices. Either a GPS base station could be set up at the site, or a GPS service could be subscribed to. Irrespective of the system type chosen, the communication will be seamless between the system and the different receivers.
Referenced to the GPS coordinates, the 3D model gets loaded onto the on-board computers of the equipment. These computers are then able to interact with machinery controls and GPS receivers. As the machine moves across the worksite, the GPS documents its real-time positioning. As the machinery’s blades and buckets move, the GPS locates their positions.
The computer can automatically adjust the buckets or blades to the required surface elevations or excavation depths. This ability ensures accurate, smooth grading of sidewalks, roads, parking lots, etc.
Helps Communicate Site Layout
3D models can help with communicating site layout, which includes the location of landscape elements and utility equipment. For example, you could map an electrical equipment’s location. The equipment list may comprise electrical service slabs, kiosks, connections for signs, light poles, decorations, etc. A 3D model would help electricians at the worksite set up these connections accurately and quickly.
You could also employ 3D mapping technology to map other utilities, including gutters, wastewater and water piping, natural gas lines, etc. Charting the utilities’ layout gives the crew increased confidence about the positioning of the various equipment and provides the information they need to access and place equipment at any given time.
A 3D model may also comprise elements such as curbing, landscaping, benches, etc. Accessories such as playground equipment and benches need a connection and base. Knowing the location of these different elements could enable crew members to be prepared for the process well in advance and avoid re-digging at a later point.
Enables Realistic Visualizations
3D modeling has animation features baked in, which helps clients visualize a project a lot more effectively than flat drawings could ever help accomplish. The technology offers a virtual walkthrough or tour of a proposed building and gives the client a feel of the overall layout, including the structure’s minutest of details.Clients can walk through their future house’s entrance, head to the lobby area, visualize the dining area filled with guests, etc. The tile’s texture, installation of fountains, proper kitchen lighting, the view from the window, etc. are things 3D modeling can realistically virtualize.
If you’d like to see how the visuals turn out, check out this video:
The technology also helps visualize the surrounding space of a structure and populate it with appropriate décor and furniture. Including background and landscape details is essential as only then the renders would look a lot more realistic. Bushes, trees, and landscaping are any day better than blank space when visualizing or designing a house.
Accurate 3D prototypes of the encircling landscape should be taken to:
This level of visualization or realism is something 2D images can never provide.
Reduced Lead Time, Errors, and Costs
3D modeling has enabled the construction sector to get more work done in less time and at a reduced cost. The time taken for the project could come down by up to 45% compared to 2D designs.
It also helps designers identify potential design issues. Thanks to the technology, a building construction process doesn’t entail rolling out design blueprints anymore. Architectural presentations have shifted to tablets and laptops from draft tables.
The 3D model of any given structure can be easily rotated and viewed from all sides, making it easier to look for issues (if any) in the model and fix it before the actual building process could begin. Long story short, 3D modeling helps infuse life into a project at the design stage itself so that things get done right the first time.
The more precise the models are during the initial phases of a building project, the lesser are the possibilities of rework. For those not in the know, construction project rework could cost a company millions of dollars and lead to litigation. With 3D models becoming more advanced and data collection becoming more extensive, the need for reworks come down significantly. It means lesser raw material and labor costs.
Ensures Project Timeliness and Conformance
During construction, 3D models could be used to ensure the construction work is on time and on track. Comparisons could be made between the current work and projections to ensure consistency between the two. Drones could be used to do a quick review of the site and compare those images with the construction project’s models.
The drone could be used to capture visual information using lidar technology. Occasionally, supplementary photogrammetry could also be used for proper texturing and color. If the existing 3D scans and the already created models do not match, changes could be made accordingly.
Drones can perform routine safety checks and lidar scans on a construction site, cover large sites quickly and report data back instantly. The best part is they are completely non-disruptive and non-invasive.
Enables Share-Friendly, Easy-to-Review Designs
Since 3D modeling technology has taken things digital, sharing designs remotely and soliciting feedback has become easier and quicker. Most importantly, the architect would no longer have to explain the technicalities of the design to the project manager in layperson terms. The 3D layouts are largely self-explanatory.
In-progress, accurate 3D scans could be used for reporting back to various stakeholders, assuring them the project is on track. After the construction work is done, the 3D models could be archived for later use. They would come in handy any time the need to modify, retrofit, update, or extend the construction project arises.
The cloud-based nature of these scans would ensure the information could be retained and accessed from any part of the world. When the project requires new additions, those could be directly inserted into the models to mimic how those additions would affect the project overall. The additions could be in the form of an HVAC system update, a new wing to an already extensive structure, etc.
Promotes Team Synergy
For any construction project, multiple people work together as a team to create the best outputs possible. The team members are assigned unique tasks that are interlinked to other tasks and critical to the project in the larger scheme of things. This makes it critical for each team member to be on the same page about design conception, progression, and the changes made to the project.
For example, the team handling finance should know the materials required for the building to communicate the requirements to the management and disburse funds accordingly. The finance team may be involved in the project at all stages, up to completion, to ensure the project remains cost-efficient.If all people involved in the project understand the project requirements well or are updated in real-time, sharing suggestions and ideas would become a seamless experience.
Enhanced Designs and Improved Customer Communication
3D modeling affords designers and architects to be more experimental and creative at work. Since 3D modeling techniques have given architects the latitude to not worry much about the technical aspects of their work, they now have more time and space to focus on the quality and originality of their designs.
Integrating 3D modeling into construction or the architectural designing process could take some time to learn and perfect. However, once it sits in with the workflow, and everyone in the team has easy access to it, the quality of the final designs will go up multifold.
Clients, as a result, will get to see project models at the meeting stage itself. In the past, models were created only at the design process’ end when the designers were absolutely sure that the designs made wouldn’t change dramatically after that.
Best 3D Modeling Software Tools
The range of 3D modeling software programs on the market to pick and choose from is massive. Pretty much all 3D modeling software programs let you design basic character or object models. Full-featured programs offer you the tools needed to flesh out designs with lifelike details. Not all applications are equally capable, however. Some offer more tools and features specific to certain fields.
In no particular order, the following are the best 3D modeling programs for construction projects:
SketchUp is a CAD program that lets its users create and edit 3D replicas of landscapes, house interiors, etc. It helps with end-to-end design, right from the design stage to the final phase of construction. Interior designers and architects can use the software for various design requirements, such as design development, initial diagramming, documentation, detailing, and RFI (request for information).
The program lets designers add texture paintings, animations, and lighting effects to the models. It offers an array of predesigned models and symbols too, which helps with getting the desired results. Not to mention, the software module is easy to use, even for beginners. 3D modeling generally has a steep learning curve. SketchUp is perhaps the easiest of them all, which makes it an ideal program for beginners.
Revit Architecture, developed by Autodesk, lets architectural designers rapidly sketch out rough floor plan layouts, modify standard building designs, and let their clients instantly preview their future abodes. The 3D design views allow designers to experiment with multiple designs quickly. On the other hand, high-quality documents allow designers to identify and correct issues early into the designing process.
Revit also comes with a complete set of parametric structural design elements that could be modified and saved for future use. Also, the software has environmental benefits – environmental responsiveness and energy modeling are components vital to the design process. Revit is not just a drafting program – it is also a robust, dynamic database. Unlike other 3D tools, Revit permits project data to be stored in an individual project file.
Besides its efficiency and flexibility, Revit helps facilitate design, procurement, construction, life safety, pricing, facility management, ongoing maintenance, etc.
AutoCAD is arguably the most popular 3D modeling tool. Even people who have no professional use or experience in 3D modeling would have heard of it. AutoCAD Architecture is a variant of AutoCAD, with functions and tools particularly suited to construction and architectural work. Formerly called AutoCAD Architectural Desktop, AutoCAD Architecture helps draft designs specific to the construction industry.
The software’s features include:
Moreover, the program has key AutoCAD features such as the ability to save designs to mobile devices and the web, DWG compare, shared views, 2D graphic, PDF import, etc. AutoCAD Architecture can handle large construction projects to the exact measurements and details.
The tool can be used right from conceptual design to a project’s end. It could be used for design development, 3D modeling, rendering, visualization, construction documents, information analysis, construction administration, and revisions. The dual-platform support and simple licensing make project administration simple and expandable.
The program has a graphics-oriented, smooth interface that lets designers sketch and edit models in different ways. The software supports a range of formats for exporting, importing, and maintaining real-time connections with other software. The program is architect-centric and has not been bogged down by unrelated engineering functionalities.
3D Studio (3DS) Max is a web-based design tool by Autodesk. It’s commonly used for animation and 3D rendering works and is a part of Autodesk’s software suite for construction, architecture, and engineering. The software suits requirements of companies – both small and large. The tool is quite popular for rendering photorealistic pictures of structures, landscapes, and other objects.
Several industries, including the construction sector, employ 3DS Max to generate graphics. The architecture and real estate industries, in particular, use the program to draw lifelike images of structures during the design phase. Such visualization helps clients visualize their homes and provide suggestions or critiques.
3DS Max employs polygon modeling, which gives modeling artists a higher level of control over different polygons, resulting in an increased level of precision and detail in their work. Once a model is made, the program helps generate the textures and materials needed to make the model look real. Colors, textures, gradients, and other surface details result in much more exceptional quality renders.
Choosing 3D Modeling Software – A Few Considerations
The best 3D modeling software may not be the right one for your project. If it’s your first time incorporating 3D modeling into a construction or architecture project, you must consider a few things before zeroing in on a software program.
Nature of the Project
As mentioned earlier, there are 3D modeling software programs for different fields and projects. There are programs dedicated to engineering design, mechanical design, product design, civil engineering, graphic design, and industrial design. Each field has various needs, and certain software tools may be specifically designed to cater to those requirements.
A 3D tool used for jewelry creation, for instance, may not be ideal for creating aircraft models. Therefore, choose your 3D modeling software carefully. The tools mentioned above are all reliable for construction projects. If you’d like something different, do your due diligence.
Most 3D modeling programs are not free, particularly the more robust and capable ones. There could be some with a free trial, but the trial period may not be long enough to learn and use the tool meaningfully. If you come across free versions, they would be watered-down versions that would only work for basic modeling tasks.
3D modeling tools usually cost thousands of dollars a year. 3DS Max, for example, costs around $1,600 per year. Revit costs more than $2,200 for a yearly subscription. These costs may be a spare change for a large enterprise but are a significant sum for a fledgling construction company.
If you are an individual and cannot pay for a 3D modeling software, look at SketchUp’s free version. If you have bagged some projects and can afford to pay for software, upgrade to SketchUp’s $299 a year version. The prices go up from there as your requirements increase. Not to mention, some tools come with educational or student licenses.
If you are on a Mac, make sure your 3D tool is compatible with macOS since not every 3D modeling tool works on both Mac and Windows. If you’re looking for a tool that works on both operating systems, AutoCAD’s offerings are worth consideration.
SketchUp and ArchiCAD are also OS-agnostic. However, Revit and 3DS Max are Windows-only software programs. If you have a Mac, you will have to run Windows on it through Boot Camp to use them.
If you are relatively new to 3D modeling software, SketchUp and AutoCAD would be the ideal platforms to learn the ropes. SketchUp has a free version designed to keep the requirements and skill sets of beginner 3D artists in mind. SketchUp is considered, by most industry professionals, extremely flexible and the easiest 3D modeling tool.
SketchUp has different versions, and the free web-based version is considered beginner-friendly for its intuitive tools, easy learning curve, and an extremely user-friendly interface. If you are an intermediate 3D artist or consider yourself an expert, 3DS Max is a comprehensive program that would better suit your skill sets.
Even if you are quite familiar with 3D modeling tools for construction projects, it’s recommended you do not pick the most complex program since not all programs are the same. You must, therefore, look for software that is fairly easy to learn. If there are multiple people in your team, the short learning curve becomes even more important as it ensures little to no business interruptions or not a lot of time is spent in training.
An attractive user interface indicates the program you’ve chosen is the right pick. The interface should be consistent. In other words, the designing and drafting procedures must logically flow from start to end. If the program is feature-rich, make sure the vendor offers video training and good customer support.
Construction projects are complex endeavors that entail multiple variables and a plethora of moving components. Before 3D modeling became a thing, construction project professionals would find it extremely challenging to truly ascertain how the proposed structure would look before it was built. Thanks to 3D modeling and its various advances, accurate visualization of a building is no longer an issue.
3D modeling is currently being extensively used across different construction projects. The technology has become an integral component of most construction companies’ risk mitigation plans. The hundreds of 3D modeling programs at an architect or designer’s disposal prove that computer graphics processing has become integral to construction projects.