An interview with Nick Pansic, deputy design engineer, and Michael Newberry, design engineer, of MWH Global, one of only two U.S. firms involved in Panama Canal expansion efforts
What is the mission of the Panama Canal Expansion project—specifically, the work being done on the Third Set of Locks?
Nick Pansic: We have worked on this project for more than 10 years – watching it evolve from a concept to a project under construction. The Third Set of Locks project really is the opportunity for the Panama Canal Authority to “unlock the bottle neck” on their current canal system. These new locks will provide significant expansion in capacity by allowing larger vessels to travel through the Canal, providing an opportunity for the expansion of the services that the Panama Canal Authority is providing to the world’s shipping industry.
This project includes the largest water-saving basins ever designed or built and the highest design standards we have come across as international designers for lock projects. Specifically, we are designing for major earthquakes, and the design requirements are extremely high. We’ve been pioneering new technology to advance the design state of the practice – specifically for the lock walls, and also for the lock gates. The lock gates are massive steel structures, over three thousand tons each. Making these lock gates work under a highly seismic event has been a real challenge that the design team has come through with the help of 3D modeling.
This is a civil engineer’s dream project – and the Canal Authority deserves a lot of credit as they had the vision to guarantee the project even before the handover in 1999. Without expansion, the Canal faced the prospect of becoming a tourist attraction. So the Canal Authority really took a hard look at the economics and financial requirements of expanding this major infrastructure asset.
Can you give a brief description of how MWH is using building information modeling (BIM) on the Panama Canal project?
Michael Newberry: During the tender design, we modeled several design options using Autodesk 3ds Max Design and produced design visualizations which helped the client better understand these designs and make more informed decisions.
Now, in final design, we are using the Autodesk Revit family of products for detailed design of the Canal’s new lock and dam structures, buildings, control towers and supporting utilities. We are also using AutoCAD Civil 3D for our site design. Intelligent 3D models give us insight into very complex designs, and they are instrumental for keeping design and documentation coordinated, saving us both time and money. We also combine the design models to improve our cross-discipline coordination and resolve design conflicts prior to construction – thereby increasing the quality of our deliverables and preventing costly field changes.
Can you provide an example of that coordination?
Nick Pansic: On the Third Set of Locks design/build/delivery, we are advancing many design elements in parallel, and BIM allows us to integrate changes rapidly and confidently. Another example of how we are using BIM effectively is the changes we are making to the building facades for the 42 buildings per complex – which have been accomplished readily with BIM. We have visually demonstrated the changes to the contractor and owner, an efficient and powerful communication tool.
How do you envision BIM transforming the building and infrastructure industries in general?
Michael Newberry:BIM brings significant value in all phases of the project lifecycle, but especially after project handover – where we are giving owners a robust operations and maintenance tool for their long-term facilities needs. BIM will become the vital link between asset creation and asset management, driving efficiencies throughout the lifecycle to better use resources for critical infrastructure needs throughout the world. We’ve made a giant leap forward in our design process by adopting BIM – but it is still the early days and we’ve only just begun to unleash its potential on major wet infrastructure projects.
Click on the following link to access The You Tube video regarding this project.
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