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Application of Building Information Modeling to Steel Bridge Construction


Advances in Building Information Modeling (BIM) software and three-dimensional modeling over the last quarter-century offer the promise of a single source of project data from planning to design through construction and then facility management. In the case of steel bridge fabrication such a platform could lead to increased efficiencies and reduced chances for error as the need to manually recreate or retype data is eliminated. This potential has to date been largely unrealized and it is understood that a steel bridge has yet to be fabricated in the United States without continued reliance on two-dimensional paper drawings.

A proof of concept study (Cheng 2016) determining and documenting how electronic files containing steel bridge data can be transferred from designer to detailer to fabricator under New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) current design/detailing practice to first fabricate and then verify a steel bridge girder section highlighted a number of areas that will require further consideration. A broader study is needed that addresses the method of communication between the owner, the design engineer, the contractor, the detailer, the fabricator, the erector, and the quality assurance inspector. The form and type of information needed by each party may be different and needs to be spelled out in the contract between the parties. In addition the format of archiving the as built structure including mill test report (MTR) and weld inspection reports need to determined. A format for generating requests for information (RFI’s) needs to be developed which prevents overlapping changes and updates the information for parties requiring the information. Research is needed to develop guidelines for the contractual arrangements, and form and type of information to be exchanged between the parties. The results of the research should be applied to a mock project to demonstrate the results of this research.


The objective of this research is to develop guidelines for the contractual arrangements and form and type of information to be exchanged between the parties, and demonstration of the guidelines through application to a mock project.

The results of this study will provide a new means of communication between the parties resulting in more efficient construction and reduced chances of errors due to manual transcription of project requirements, dimensions, and geometries including camber from one party to another.

Related Research:

In the NYSDOT study (Cheng 2016) information for a 114 ft. girder section was provided to the fabricator in a variety of CAD data file formats (DXF files and STEP) that included flange and web sizes and stiffener locations. A three-dimensional model was also provided for reference and checking. Based solely on this information and without the use of two-dimensional paper drawings a girder was fabricated at the Hirschfeld Industries San Angelo shop in August 2016. The fabricated section was then scanned using a Faro laser scanner and the compared with the model generated by the modeling software. The laser scan provided validation that the fabricated girder was within the usual fabrication tolerances. The study highlighted a number of areas that will require further consideration. First, there were many elements required for fabrication that could not be shown such as tension and stress reversal zones, weld testing limits, Mill to Bear/Tight Fit requirements and even simple fillet welds between components; this study only touched on the large amounts of metadata that would need to be included in making this whole process a system that would replace the current NYSDOT means and methods. Second, it was evident that electronic data transfer will require closer coordination and a continued back and forth communication among designer, detailer and fabricator. One example is the location of the shop slice locations, which is based solely on the purchaser’s selection of economical locations. In addition, defining piece marks for girders and splice plates need to be generated and included in the file defining the structure. The shop personnel need an electronic drawing/model to guide them in fabrication and quality control functions. The information that needs to be provided to the owner’s quality assurance personell also needs to be defined.


This work supports AASHTO Subcommittee of Bridges and Structures 2013 Strategic Plan objective of “Model and Manage Information Intelligently”.

Sponsoring Committee:AKC70, Fabrication and Inspection of Metal Structures
Research Period:24 - 36 months
Research Priority:High
RNS Developer:Karl H. Frank, PhD, PE Chief Engineer Hirschfeld Industries 5910 Courtyard Drive Suite 210 Austin, Texas 78731 karl.frank@hirschfeld.com
Source Info:Chang, Julius, NYSDOT Case Study: 3D Design, Fabrication, and Virtual Assembly of a Steel Structure PIN: S3DF.VA Pre-Final Report, November. 2016
Date Posted:06/19/2017
Date Modified:03/31/2020
Index Terms:Bridge construction, Steel bridges, Building information modeling, New York State Department of Transportation, Request for information, Project management,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Administration and Management
Data and Information Technology
Bridges and other structures

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