Small Business success

Prepared by Nickolai Vasilieff – 22 March 2011 copyright 2011. All rights reserved. No reprint or reissue of all or part of this document may be made without the express written permission of the author. Word count = 1692 Subject: Nor-Son Inc. Dan Stanifer, Architectural Designer

Design Construction Firm Improves Customer Service and

Bottom Line with 3D Site Modeling

Nor-Son, Inc. is a design-build construction company headquartered in Baxter, Minnesota.  With approximately 150 employees, and over 20 years experience, Nor-Son prides itself in providing top quality services to its customers.  In a recent interview with Dan Stanifer, Architectural Designer for Nor-Son, he explained how Nor-Son, Inc. was improving both customer service, and their bottom line by expanding their use of 3D site modeling in the pre-construction stage of a project.

“As one of the countries top 100 design-construction companies, Nor-Son, Inc. works hard to distinguish itself from the competition.”, says Dan, “Part of this effort is to work closely with a client to insure they receive exactly what they want.  We have an advantage because we manage a project from concept-to-completion, so we can start delivering quality service from day one.  This is important because it is in the concept stage of a project where we can best insure we understand the client’s needs, and eliminate future changes and costs.  It is also at this stage of a project where 3D site modeling has become a very valuable tool.”

Dan came to Nor-Son, Inc. about a year ago to assist with their transition from 2D to 3D design.  Using AutoCAD®, they had the tools to create drawings in 3D, and with a few third party products for AutoCAD, they had the tools to easily illustrate their designs.  The following project was the first time that Nor-Son used the combination of AutoCAD, EasySite™, and AccuRender™ for designing, modeling, and rendering a project. The results were both timely and impressive.

The project is a bank building located in the town of Baxter, Minnesota.  Working with the customer, Nor-Son completed the building design, and prepared a site plan.  When the building was overlaid on the site plan, they realized that the building had to be set closer to the adjacent road than anticipated.  This meant that a variance from the city planning commission was required.

The primary concern of the city was that the building would block the view across a corner, for drivers at the intersection.  To receive approval, Nor-Son had to demonstrate that the building would not block a drivers view. They needed to do a presentation before the planning commission, and although drawings would be helpful, what was really needed was a picture taken from the intersection, across the corner where the building was to be located.  The problem was, the building didn’t exist yet, so a picture was impossible.

Having created site models in AutoCAD before, Dan knew that with about a weeks work he could create a 3D site model that would allow him to, from a drivers viewpoint, show that the bank would not block the required view.  The problem was time.  He didn’t have a week.  The solution was a combination of applications. Dan pulled together programs he had used in the past, including AutoCAD, and AccuRender.  He also downloaded an evaluation version of a new site-modeling application called EasySite.  Then, he and his associates Brooke Silvernail, Project Architect, and Mark Baldwin, CAD Designer went to work.

They started with the 2D architectural design drawings that had been created in AutoCAD Release 14™.  Dan, Brooke, and Mark worked together to convert the 2D drawings into 3D designs, using AutoCAD, and thearchitectural add-on appliciation Arch-T.  Once the 3D drawings were prepared, Dan took a topographical-map of the existing site, which had been prepared for Nor-Son from a recent survey, and merged that map with new topographical-lines they had hand generated in AutoCAD.  This resulted in a topographical map that accurately represented the new site.

What the team now had was an AutoCAD drawing of the site plan, with topographical lines showing the desired land elevations.  The next step was to create a real 3D digital terrain model.  Using EasySite’s ‘TIN’ generator routine, Dan quickly touched each line, specified an elevation, and automatically created a TIN from the topographical lines.  This TIN was then a true digital terrain model of the site as Nor-Son designed it.  From start to finish, this process took about one hour.

The next step was to put the building on the site.  Although 3D blocks of standard buildings and pads were available, Nor-Son had to show the real bank building as it was to be built. This was possible by using EasySite to pick and place an outline of an object into the terrain model.  Mark simply created a polyline outline of the building, and then using EasySite automatically cut that outline as a building pad into the surface. Mark was then able to specify the elevation, and a pad the exact shape of the building was cut into the terrain surface.

Once the true building pad was inserted into the terrain model at the proper elevation, Brooke uses the 3D model of the bank building that he had generated in AutoCAD, and using the insert command placed the true 3D building model onto the pad.  With this step completed they had a true digital terrain model of his site, and had cut both a building pad and 3D model of the actual building into the terrain model.  So far, they had less than ½ day invested in the project, and were ahead of schedule.

What they needed now were streets and landscaping. Under normal circumstances, creating streets, curbs, walkways, and landscapes would require an extensive process of manually creating roads by using the ‘tabulated surface’ and ‘edge surface’ AutoCAD commands, along with the ‘polyline’ commands to try and create individual road segments.  With AutoCAD and EasySite, they shortened the process considerably.

“The automation made possible by this new technology is invaluable”, says Dan, “With EasySite in AutoCAD, I was able to draw a single line where I wanted the road to go, pick the ‘Road’ command in EasySite, pick the type of road I wanted from the EasySite menu, and then touch the line.  Immediately the line turned into a complete 3D road with curbs, cut into the terrain model at the correct elevation. This took about 3 minutes. I then created an intersection in the same way using EasySite and AutoCAD.  Poof , in minutes I had all my roads and the intersection completed.  They even included traffic lines.”

With the building and roads in place, the team went to work on the landscape features. First they needed sidewalks around the building, with wheel chair access. Mark drew a single line where he wanted the walkways around the building.  He picked the EasySite ‘drive 3D’ command, selected the style of walkway he wanted, and touched the lines.  EasySite automatically turned the lines into 3D walkways inserted into the surface at the elevation Mark specified.

Then, in a similar manner, they created the parking lot around the building.  They outlined the parking lot perimeter, selected a ‘road-with-curb’ icon, and automatically defined all the parking areas.  Because the parking areas were automatically created with curbs, they did a little clean up to round corners and finish lines, and the plan had the required wheel chair access ramps.

To create the landscaping, Brooke inserted 3D trees, cars, and people onto the model.  The final step was to render the model.  Using AccuRender in AutoCAD, he set up his views and rendered them.

For the presentation to the city planning commission, the team created, in EasySite, a picture of the site, with the view-point from the position of a drivers eyes when stopped at the intersection.  Using AccuRender and AutoCAD, they also created a drive-by of the site.  At the time of this article, the project had been presented to the city and was approved for construction.

“Site modeling is something that is very important for us because a lot of our projects are higher end homes on lake properties”. Dan explains. “This is the land of 10,000 lakes.  It is very necessary for us to show people what the house will look like on a site, and what the view will be from their home.  For commercial properties, we increasingly need to show how a building will look in a neighborhood, or as with the bank building, how it will fit on a lot.”

Before now, Nor-Son created site models on about 30-40% of our projects.  As it becomes easier, we hope to prepare site models for every project.  The benefits for us are customer service.  The benefit to the customer is that they see exactly what they will be receiving.  We view this as a service that no one else can provide.  People have a hard time visualizing a 3D building and site from a flat plan drawing.  By showing them their project on the site we not only provide better service, but we save time and money by finalizing a design that has fewer changes during the construction stage.  Everyone wins.  One of Nor-Son’s goals is to provide the very best customer service.  These 3D CAD applications help us achieve this goal.”

On prior projects, Dan and his team spent about 40 hours to create the 3D site models.  This bank project took about 10 hours to model.  This was the first time Nor-Son had used EasySite with AutoCAD to create a site model.  Dan estimates that creating site models in this manner will reduce their site modeling time by about 70%.

As companies in the design-build, architectural, and landscape fields look to provide greater customer service, and increase profits, 3D computer aided design will play a significant part.  With computer processing speeds increasing, and lower cost applications like EasySite and AccuRender becoming available, small and large companies will be able to show clients, concerned citizens, and regulating organizations exactly what a project will look like, before construction begins.  This pre-construction site modeling and imaging will not only provide better customer service, but will reduce misunderstandings and errors, shorten design-to-construct times, reduce costs, and increase profits.  A win-win-win situation for everyone involved.

To do this project the NorSon, Inc. team used a 550Mz computer, with 256 Meg RAM, Windows NT, AutoCAD Release 14, with third party add-on applications including EasySite, and AccuRender.

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More information on applications mentioned in this article can be found at

AutoCAD – www.autodesk.com

EasySite – www.cadeasy.com

Accurender – www.cadeasy.com

Article prepared by:

Nickolai N. Vasilieff

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