A field worker obtains GPS data for water utilities in front of a Sandia Labs facility.


For Sandia Corporation, operating and maintaining Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., is akin to running a small town. Serving as one of the site office facilities for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, Sandia Labs encompasses approximately 1,000 buildings and structures across 9,000 acres, maintains close to 350,000 facilities records and employs more than 8,400 people, including 12 architectural and engineering firms. These firms provide new engineering design and design changes for non-nuclear components in the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal, as well as energy and national security projects, including the design and subsequent field layout for all phases of buildings, parking lots, drainage and utilities systems, and facilities.

But maintaining updated facilities records to reflect the ongoing work completed by multiple firms is no easy task. For some time, Sandia Labs functioned with an assortment of software products from different vendors for the creation of CAD, geospatial and building design documents. This, however, added to the difficulty of maintaining current and accurate as-built drawings that were often used to locate underground utilities, such as gas lines. And without accurate information, the firms had a great chance of colliding with utilities during construction, creating an unsafe work environment. “Damaging a buried utility costs as much as $250,000 and creates safety hazards for workers,” says Mark Coffing, CAD technical lead for Sandia National Laboratories. “We once ran into a water line because the survey points in the documentation were off by 16 feet and caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. After this experience, we realized we needed to make changes to keep everyone safe.”

The use of tools from multiple vendors also caused project documents to be inefficient and unconnected, and limited who could utilize the documentation. For instance, only one copy of any document could be checked out of Sandia Labs’ central document management system at a time. The multitude of ongoing projects meant that uncontrolled copies of documents were being used to develop project work packages, which include work authorizations with cost and building specifications to begin work in the field. This made it difficult to track project changes and ensure that records were updated once projects were completed. Smaller projects, such as parking lot expansions, were often completed but kept open in the document management system until documents in use on other projects were updated and published to the system. The combination of these issues made it necessary for Sandia Labs to focus on the integration of one software package to help maintain its operations--in a more efficient and streamlined way.

Bentley OnSite gives field workers immediate access to the most current documentation, such as this architectural and engineering rendering of a Sandia Labs facility.

Employing a Platform of Solutions

To address its goal of improving documentation accuracy, increasing efficiency and ensuring worker safety, Sandia Labs turned to software firm Bentley Systems Incorporated (Exton, Pa.) to help the agency standardize geospatial tools, CAD drawings and workflow processes. The Bentley integrated product line provided Sandia Labs with the range of capabilities needed for its facilities management, including Bentley’s CAD platform MicroStation GeoGraphics, Projectwise, a collaboration tool integrated with Microsoft Office’s SharePoint that functions as a central document system, and OnSite, an electronic fieldbook for stakeout and inspection.

To resolve any issues with existing documents, MicroStation was used to merge the design history of two drawings and create a table to address conflicts, such as deviations in the actual location of structures versus their planned locations. This functionality was particularly helpful when incorporating modifications completed in multiple projects that pertain to a single record drawing. “The use of MicroStation halved the time needed to consolidate document changes to reflect as-built conditions,” Coffing says. “It allowed us to combine design history with existing documents as well as merge multiple documents. It now takes minutes to efficiently document changes.”

Due to software limitations and internal workflow, as-built utility data was often not reflected in the Sandia Labs Facilities Geospatial Information System (FGIS), its proprietary document management system, until 180 days after project completion. Consequently, many projects would be under construction for 18 months yet not appear in the system for another six months. “Excavation permits and maintenance job plans were often issued based on outdated, inaccurate information, which put a greater burden on line spotters and system engineers to find the undocumented utilities,” Coffing says.

To solve this dilemma, Bentley OnSite was integrated into the ProjectWise workflow for FGIS files and for exterior and interior site project inspection, giving field workers immediate access to the most current documentation. Combining powerful construction applications with an intelligent design archive to automate construction activities, Bentley OnSite put an end to re-engineering design information and carrying cumbersome paper resources to the field. Data administration tools also made managing the real-time project fieldbook much easier.

MicroStation GeoGraphics (used to integrate engineering and mapping applications on a single platform) helps Sandia Labs maintain maps for the FGIS while ProjectWise (used to manage and share CAD and geospatial content and project data) helps to organize and control the documentation workflow. The ability to define specialized coordinate systems for each drawing enables on-the-fly data referencing of ground coordinate systems to grid coordinate systems. This also addressed the fact that some drawings were based on NAD27, while others were based on NAD83. Sandia Labs implemented new workflows through ProjectWise to improve retrieval and reliability of geospatial drawings. Project invoicing is now tied to current construction redlines and when an invoice is submitted, it is tracked in ProjectWise to ensure updates are made to the FGIS within five days.

“The time needed to receive and document as-built conditions in the FGIS went from 180 days after project completion to within five days of receiving a GPS request,” Coffing explains. “We are confident that the record documents accurately reflect the conditions for new utility work under the surface.”

The third package component, Bentley OnSite, was integrated to work directly with the Trimble (Sunnyvale, Calif.) GPS base system deployed at the Sandia Labs facility site. This incorporation has enabled Sandia’s field personnel to use either survey-grade, dual-frequency Trimble receivers or mapping/GIS-grade GPS receivers built into Panasonic Toughbooks to obtain coordinate values. Workers can now document any discrepancies they find between the documents and the as-built conditions, and receive immediate feedback to the geospatial location while in the field. Bentley OnSite has also enabled maintenance workers to locate field equipment, especially in remote locations.

Integrating Bentley OnSite with a Trimble GPS base system allows Sandia personnel to document any discrepancies found between documents and as-built conditions.

A Cooperative Venture

Prior to teaming up with Bentley, each Sandia Labs project allocated 20 to 25 percent of the design cost to redlining as-built conditions. The gap between actual construction and document updating almost guaranteed that record documents were outdated. With Bentley OnSite, however, as-built conditions are immediately incorporated into all record documents. “When we integrate OnSite with the GPS base system, we can make changes to a document on-the-fly,” Coffing adds. “Before, we had to shoot GPS points, then feed them into a document and try to recall the points to draw the lines back in the office. With OnSite we can create a controlled document and take pictures on site. I can look at a document and see what I need to inspect and what I’ve already checked, which minimizes duplicate work.” This capability proved helpful with interior inspections and surface site changes related to parking lots, streetlights and storm drains. Because the documents are updated on a daily basis, maintenance and construction crews in the field can work in safer environments.

With its new platform of software solutions, Sandia Labs estimates that it has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in the labor costs needed to keep documents accurate. Moreover, it has benefited from numerous intangible gains such as confidence in the accuracy of its GIS documents, timely incorporation of changes to documents and safer working conditions for field personnel. Buried gas and utility lines are no longer possible targets for heavy equipment thanks to the integration of record documents with live GPS feedback via the Bentley OnSite platform.

“Project coordinators are now accurately tracking work progress because we have a mechanism in OnSite to track when the work should be completed,” Coffing says. “We also have reduced the chance of damaging buried utilities by having updated documentation to know what’s underground.”

By implementing this package of Bentley offerings, Sandia Labs is now able to track, update and archive accurate design documents for use on future projects. This efficient software solutions suite aids the national security lab in fulfilling its mission to help secure a peaceful and free world through technology.

Manufacturer Information:

Bentley Systems Incorporated, www.bentley.com 
Trimble, www.trimble.com