Panama Canal and BIM

February 18, 2017

Aerial view of the canal (Photo by Canal De Panama)


The importance of Panama Canal cannot be overstated. Considered one of the wonders of the modern world, The Panama Canal is an important waterway that joins the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Until its creation, ships had to sail around the tip of South America to journey from one side of the world to another by water. The Canal construction hired some 45,000 construction and support workers. Between 10,000 - 15,000 people died from accidents and diseases and it was completed in 1914, costing $375 million. At the time it was built, the canal was an engineering marvel, relying on a series of locks that lift ships – and their thousands of pounds of cargo – above mountains. The ambitious project doubles the capacity of the canal by adding a new lane of traffic and increases the width and depth of the lanes and locks to enable larger ships to pass.

Aerial View of the Canal (Photo by Canal de Panama)


After almost a century of operation, the expansion of the project was undertaken in 2007 due to capacity constraints and was completed in 2016. What makes the expansion project particularly interesting is the use of BIM. B1M is an online video channel dedicated to BIM in construction and showcases some really interesting projects around the globe through visual content. The channel has produced an informative case study on the Panama expansion project. “Panama Canal’s expansion is one of the first large-scale civil engineering projects to use BIM and it really has benefitted the scheme at every stage” according to the B1M. The case study can be found here.The official website, Canal De Panama has also documented the entire project online.

Construction Underway (Photo by Tom Fowlkes/RES/Shutter) 


The expansion program consists of several components/projects including:

  • Construction of two lock complexes (third set of locks), which will create a third lane of traffic. It is the largest and most comprehensive project under the Expansion Program at a cost of $3.2 billion

  • Pacific Access Channel, also known as PAC4, which is the excavation of a 6.1 km-long access channel for the new Pacific locks to bypass Miraflores Lake.

  • Dredging of the navigational channels along the waterway.

  • Improvements to water supply by raising Gatun Lake maximum operational level by 45 cm to improve the Canal’s water supply and draft

The expansion project makes an interesting case study in the application of BIM to a major engineering project.







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