Obama’s idea of using infrastructure spending as a primary means for stimulating the economy is looking better than ever. I sat down today with Greg Bentley, CEO of Bentley Systems, one of the largest providers of software design tools for the architecture, engineering, and construction industries—aka the designers and builders of infrastructure.
America’s roads, bridges, ports, and levees are crumbling. Witness the collapse of the Anthony Falls Bridge in Minneapolis a year ago. The main message from Bentley is that because of software tools provided by his company and competitors such as AutoDesk, people who design and build infrastructure can do it faster, cheaper, and better than in the years when our now-crumbling infrastructure was built.
Of course, he would say that. But he showed me a bunch of case studies that made it clear that he wasn’t just blowing smoke. One example: None other than the rebuilding of the Anthony Falls Bridge. This job was done in just one year, on time and on budget.
Workers who were setting the rebar could look at details of the design on three-dimensional PDF documents via laptop computers or handhelds—right on the site. Internet-based systems allow engineers and project managers to collaborate both from around the world and around the job site. The Net also enables the collaborators to engage in a process called integrated project delivery. They plan and execute the project together in a smooth flow as if they work for one company. That saves a lot of time, cuts out a lot of duplication of work, and avoids mistakes.
I asked Bentley why we so often hear about major construction projects that are way over budget and way late. He says that’s mostly buildings. They’re extremely complex. Also, since architects mainly still get paid by the hour, they don’t get things done as quickly as they could.
Fortunately, most of the infrastructure projects the feds are talking about today seem to be of the bridge and roadway variety. So, hopefully, now that infrastructure designers and builders have these tools at their command, we’ll be able to get better structures that cost less and last longer.