Technology Tools

July 11, 2014
Leveraging design tools to maximize efficiency

About the author: Brian Young is sustainable infrastructure program manager for Autodesk. Young can be reached at [email protected]. Amy McIntosh is associate editor for Water & Wastes Digest. McIntosh can be reached at [email protected] or 847.954.7966.


Design technology has evolved to allow the water and wastewater industry to assess the current state of infrastructure for better planning. WWD Associate Editor Amy McIntosh spoke with Brian Young, sustainable infrastructure program manager for Autodesk, about how these tools can benefit the industry.

Amy McIntosh: How can design tools be used to address the current state of water infrastructure? 

Brian Young: We have a lot of aging infrastructure that needs to be repaired or replaced. We need new infrastructure to meet future demands; growing population calls for greater resilience. There is a need to build quickly, but there is a lack of money to pay for this infrastructure. Design technology can play a big role in unlocking a lot of funding and figuring out ways to design infrastructure more efficiently. 

[We need to ask] what would make the public ratepayers more amenable to rate hikes. The key is to be able to prove the value of the infrastructure that you are proposing to build, not just in terms of its financial returns but also in terms of its environmental and social impact. 

The industry has shifted to a new design paradigm called building information modeling (BIM), which is designing in three dimensions. This gives you a much greater insight into your projects, which translates into an understanding of some of the social, environmental and financial impacts. You can then communicate that to your ratepayers and private investors, so they get an understanding of what they are paying for and whether it is a project worth funding. 

McIntosh: How can technology help utilities manage their resources more efficiently?

Young: When we are talking about water resources and we look at the challenges utilities are experiencing, whether securing a long-term water supply or facing drought issues, they point to some of the shortcomings of the ways in which we have thought of and managed water. We need an approach that takes into account the water resources that are available. 

 With this shift, it is necessary to manage water more intelligently, and a whole new set of infrastructure will be required. The advent of these new types of infrastructure requires the ability to build and design and to analyze them with BIM. That requires insight into the project and the existing conditions and sizing those projects to meet the demand of the neighborhood. That is where BIM and design technology can really come in handy because they give you that insight and answer a lot of questions.

McIntosh: What are some sustainable benefits that can be realized using this technology?

Young: I think for all types of infrastructure in the water and wastewater industry, there are a lot of opportunities to plan and design projects that are more environmentally sustainable and benefit the community as well. The water industry is now taking a new approach with green infrastructure. Where design technology comes in is the ability to not only see these projects before they are built, but to analyze how they will perform and see what kind of social and environmental impact they bring. When talking about the water-energy nexus, we look for ways in which we can take wastewater treatment plants and find opportunities to recover energy, whether through anaerobic digestion or using some of the solids for fertilizer. This requires new ways of designing infrastructure and that is where these tools come in handy, because they allow for the analysis of some of these impacts before these projects get built, so utilities can get a good understanding before they break ground. 

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