Quantm is making Trimble one of the world’s leading BIM market challengers

When Trimble first launched its Quantm software system a decade or so ago, the company was making an important step into end-to-end BIM modelling. The rules of the game were changing fast. Adrian Greeman reports When survey and machine control equipment maker Trimble bought the Australian road planning software system Quantm in 2006 it might not have realised quite what it was leading to. A decade later, Quantm is helping to put Trimble among the big players in the BIM (building information modelling) en
Measurement, Survey, Design & Software / December 19, 2016
Trimble's connected software
Trimble's connected software can work across the whole construction cycle and makes Trimble a major contender in its own right for end-to-end BIM working
When Trimble first launched its Quantm software system a decade or so ago, the company was making an important step into end-to-end BIM modelling. The rules of the game were changing fast. Adrian Greeman reports

When survey and machine control equipment maker 2122 Trimble bought the Australian road planning software system Quantm in 2006 it might not have realised quite what it was leading to. A decade later, Quantm is helping to put Trimble among the big players in the BIM (building information modelling) end-to-end heavy construction software market. "We saw it as a bookend product on the upstream side of the design process, and we saw the Business Center - HCE / Field Systems as being on the downstream side of the design process" says Alan Sharp, business area director for Trimble heavy civil construction software.

But it was a first step for Trimble eventually to work in the design space. After that first step it has acquired a slew of other design software, including such notable names as 7981 Tekla, and 357 Novapoint with its Quadri server system.

Meanwhile Trimble has also been extending its site construction software with TILOS, which adds time and cost dimensions to mass haulage and other site operations. This fills in a further part of the spectrum of connected software across the whole construction cycle and makes Trimble a major contender in its own right against other vendors like 4019 Bentley Systems and 685 Autodesk.

Trimble has arrived in this connected BIM arena from a different starting point, to the other two, the site rather than the design office, with survey and site operations.

Its origins were in laser levelling, optical surveying and satellite positioning systems, applied at the initial survey end of things and on machine positioning during construction. Its survey tools have included traditional survey as well as laser scanning and GNSS.

At the physical site and earthmoving end, control of machines moved from laser level reference increasingly to GPS and fully fledged computerised 3D model machine control. The latter has particularly been developed for some years in a joint partnership with giant construction equipment maker 178 Caterpillar. All this made necessary ever more sophisticated software and this in turn has grown into a package of office and logistical management, allied to ever more complex site communications to both engineers and machines with Business Centre HCE and Trimble SCS900 Site Controller.
But this is very much targeted at the contractor's end of things which, while it uses 3-D modelling more and more, remains separated from the design process. Because of data hand-off issues, most contractors to date still need to build their own construction 3D model from the designers' data, sometimes still from 2D drawings, cumbersomely generated from the 3D design. "We have developed some ways to pass on the model more directly" says Sharp "working with Bentley in recent years on their I-model system for example." Trimble also coordinates with Autodesk.

But meanwhile BIM has been rapidly evolving too, with the goal of a universal and "intelligent" model that can be built firstly as schematic, and then detail, design and then be passed on directly through the whole construction cycle. It acts as the common data environment, a single point of reference for all the complex processes in the cycle.

That allows collaborative working and accumulation of more detail and accurate information as it goes, firstly from a host of specialist designers, then on site. With its accreted information it is passed on as the as-built model into asset management and operations, perhaps finally being used for eventual demolition.

Quantm was perhaps where Trimble took a step into the civil engineering design space, changing the game ultimately.

But the programme was a useful catch anyway with its particular ability to find the optimal route through any landscape for roads and railways.

Developed originally for Queensland State in Australia this was used internally there for road alignment planning. "It was then made available as a service for others project by project" says Sharp "with data submitted and then results returned on a per kilometre basis.

"From 2006 Trimble developed this into a standalone software now sold in three versions. The basic program for municipalities and consultants runs on PCs and can be used to assess projects up to 30km long.

"A comprehensive annual licence is available for essentially unlimited use by major users allowing projects of all lengths to be designed with any number of engineers working on them. The international consultant AECOM has one of those and the Brazilian roads authority" says Sharp. It has also found major use in China's massive infrastructure development. "And the software can still be used as a service for one-off major projects" says Sharp.
What Quantm does is to assess thousands of route options between designated route end or tie-in points, with tunnels, bridges, cuttings and embankments. "You start with a digital terrain model and your fixed points" says Sharp "and it finds the optimal cost solution or perhaps several alternatives."

On top of this basic assessment however layers of additional constraints can be added. "For example we have been building a demonstration project for a city bypass in the north of Montana in which we have tie in points at either end.

"To the basic model we add a geological model and a strata model so that something is known about the earthworks. You can also set various geographical constraints such as housing and industrial areas, or areas of high land cost. Some areas can be excluded if they are reserves for environment or in this area, native American land." Priority levels can be set for areas "And there might be other criteria such as a maximum elevation for tunnels portals so that they remain below the winter snow line to make access or maintenance easier." Bridges can also be constrained and particularly the angle of approach to crossings. As well as all the construction constraints the long-term operational costs might be constrained. "For example gradients can be limited to ensure freight haulage costs are reduced over the lifetime of the road."

Sharp says the program runs fairly quickly to examine many thousands of options and in many cases has found better options than conventional route planning, sometimes shaving many kilometres from the alignment, as well as reducing tunnel lengths. Or perhaps a tunnel might be slightly longer while a route length is reduced by much more.

Quantm will produce both an alignment and a basic road surface, with generic bridges says Sharp, and offers basic visualisation for clients and planners. At present this is then passed on for detail design using standard formats such as Land XML. "Usually the designers are interested in the alignment rather than the rest."

In future though the Quantm output might move on more directly into a more fully designed model. It is here that other significant purchases tie in, as Trimble has extended this initial foray into the design space. There has been a particular concentration on Scandinavian developers, where BIM modelling has made significant progress. First came its acquisition of the Finnish Tekla in 2011, best known for its architecture and structural programs.
Developed originally from a steel fabrication and erection program these are now among the highly regarded building design programs with a 3D BIM model at the core and with "intelligent" components, such as windows that can be "slotted in" to walls with automatic adjustment of the parameters around them. Tekla's portfolio also includes civil engineering design: its Tekla Civil, used substantially in Finland, though little known beyond it, and a BIMsight BIM collaboration platform.

To these another significant recent acquisition is Norway's 358 Vianova Systems Software House. The Norwegian team has developed a modular civil engineering design package for roads, drainage, rail, lighting and other services, as well as modules for tunnel design and for viewer a 3D model, which has found widespread use throughout Scandinavia and Northern Europe.

This was recently hugely upgraded in the latest version 19 with the addition of the Quadri server system, a central BIM system using a single 3D model for collaborative work, design engineers inputting directly into the 3D central database model. The server allows multiple users to check sections of the model in and out, stream data, and coordinate all the various layers of a project in one place along with attached data.

It is possibly the first "true BIM" in road and rail which means one reaching so-called BIM Level3 as set out in the British government's BIM initiative. Though still evolving, that is understood to be full collaboration between all disciplines using a single, shared project model.

Trimble will use the Quadri Server as its core model for all the design tools says Sharp and at present is "working hard to integrate our software packages across the board with the Quadri Server. "We have done a lot on it but it is not launched yet. For the moment we access the server using the Novapoint front end but we should see most of the other packages working with it directly."

He thinks this is a real jump up in BIM capability giving the suite of Trimble products – including other programs too - a continuous line through projects from data collection at the beginning to feasibility and planning, then detail design of all interrelated elements.

Quantm will be able to pass on to design using the best elements of Novapoint and Tekla for the civils. Tekla's highly regarded structural program, Tekla structures, will then seamlessly integrate with the road or rail design for work on the bridges, buildings and complex structures.
"And we have recently also acquired some sophisticated software developed in northern Norway for the intelligent and automated addition of such elements as roundabouts and junctions, which are among the most difficult to do." These can add full 3D junction designs in seconds rather than hours he says. The algorithms devised by the small Mesta Entreprenor group are currently being worked on in conjunction with the Tekla Civil development team to add them in.

For site operations meanwhile, additions include site interaction using software developed originally by Geary Architecture, now Trimble Connect. This site communication and model access technology will link into the main model too.

Finally, the TILOS programme adds further capacity for site operations. The program was acquired last year from Germany's Linear Project and will now be integrated with the Business Centre and ultimately the common data model.

"What TILOS allows you to do is take the mass haul plan for the earthworks from the Business Centre and produce master planning and scheduling from that, adding the cost and time dimensions for bidding and estimating purposes" says Sharp.

It gives a full 5D model view of operations and a time line which is visually well beyond traditional GANT charts and other scheduling tools, he says. The future possibilities are endless, Sharp says.

"One big advantage is that as this becomes integrated it allows the contractors' eye view to have much more input into the design process, with potential influence on the design process at an earlier stage as they examine the models."

Influencing the design from the site end was one motivation for getting involved with design software directly, he says. Today, Trimble stands as one of the three top players across the whole process. The Quantm starting point has proved to be a major game-changer indeed.
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