Roads & Infrastructure Magazine sat down with Bentley Systems’ Dan Vogen to talk about how new digital engineering processes and the increasing role of data is influencing the operation of linear infrastructure assets.
Last October, at its annual Year in Infrastructure Conference, global software solutions provider Bentley Systems launched its latest range of products aimed at advancing the design, construction and operation of infrastructure.
Notably, the company announced the availability of its new digital twin cloud services for infrastructure projects – iTwin Services.
The potential for leveraging digital twins in asset delivery and operation is immense, given the possibilities to explore practical analytical applications, artificial intelligence and even machine learning on a digital “twin” of the physical asset.
The launch of iTwin Services represents a significant shift for Bentley Systems as a digital solutions provider for infrastructure assets, showing the advancements being made in the digital engineering space on a number of levels.
For asset owners and managers of linear infrastructure assets, such as roads and bridges, the leaps and bounds being made in this space, not just for digital twins, but also more advanced ways of collecting and using asset data, present some unique opportunities to optimise their infrastructure networks.
Dan Vogen, Bentley Systems Vice President Roadway Asset Management, talks to Roads & Infrastructure Magazine about how advancements in digital engineering processes and workflows are influencing how asset owners can operate and maintain their linear assets and where new opportunities are emerging.
The foundation to many of Bentley Systems’ recent digital software offerings is the Connected Data Environment (CDE), where the information on the asset during design and construction, from the various designers, is in one data environment that stakeholders can access and receive the most up-to-date and valid information on every aspect of the project design.
“Our work towards a CDE really puts us in a position where we have that free-flow of data, the reduction of duplications and better use of information across the entire asset management and operation space,” Mr. Vogen explains. “Based on the extent of information we have and what we can do with determining usage and identifying trends in the data, we look to take the operational asset management to a much more strategic level, delivering a more performance-based method of asset management.”
Last year, Bentley Systems introduced its AssetWise linear referencing services (AWLRS) as part of the AssetWise Lifecycle Information Management Solution (ALIM), which has built on the CDE and provided the basis for new ways in which asset managers are able to optimise their data and use it in new and interesting ways.
AssetWise ALIM and AWLRS, for instance, automatically maintains location information of roadway features and assets as network changes occur and provides a single, integrated approach to network and location management. This enables the users to mange the transport network infrastructure and all associated information.
“Everything from our highway systems is linear referenced, every type of asset across roads and bridges to signs and guardrails. We’re able to go and pair up all other business data attribution for those kinds of assets,” Mr. Vogen explains. “It is a differentiator in how we can bring all that together in a single source of truth.”
For different transport agencies managing these assets and ensuring the various elements that make up the road assets, such as signage and guardrails, are compliant with the relevant legislation is paramount, with Mr. Vogen asserting that AssetWise ALIM enables users to take a much easier approach to compliance in these areas.
The US, for instance, uses a highway performance management system (HPMS) – a national level highway information system that includes data on the extent, condition, performance, use and operating characteristics of the country’s highways.
“HPMS is possibly the most indicative way of finding the value in our ability to dynamically work with all the different types of data on a linear network,” Mr. Vogen says. “Because you’ll have road segments that are defined at a certain segment basis, such as a guardrail, you’ll have different information about events occurring on different segmentation.”
The challenge is then pulling all that different road segment information together into the final HPMS extract that is reported in a performance-management context. “Our ability to work with all that data is really key. Some of the traditional challenges agencies have faced in the past is having that all of that data available but not being able to view or report against it in a single view of the truth,” Mr. Vogen says, adding that new developments in the digital workflows space and from Bentley Systems is aiming to change that.
“It has been something that has evolved over many years. We’ve been working to support compliance with HPMS with national bridge inspections and even from a World Bank standpoint for many years. It is the kind of incremental things that are done to make it easier to ensure that all the data aligns,” he says.
A big differentiator in what Bentley Systems is doing in this space is providing the capability for asset managers to work with real-time data without any kind of freeze-out period – something Mr. Vogen says is increasingly important to maintain an asset’s performance while meeting compliance.
“Many times, we’d have users freezing data and doing all their processes to get their reporting in time for the HPMS period. But, we don’t require, don’t look for and don’t want any kind of freeze-out period there,” Mr. Vogen explains. “Everything we work with in Bentley software has a temporal aspect so we can continue on with maintaining the data. Although we’re maintaining a report built on information from a certain date, we are able to continue on with the act of operation. “It’s the digital twin – we need to keep that digital twin information up to date and make sure we don’t fall days, weeks or months behind.”
Mr. Vogen says other advances in roadway asset management are informing the way asset owners can optimise roads, particularly from a maintenance and operational standpoint. Photogrammetry is an example of where new technologies complemented by automated visual inspections are helping to improve road and bridge asset maintenance tasks.
The South Korean Government, for instance, developed a bridge maintenance system using a digital twin to help manage ageing infrastructure, namely Hannam Bridge crossing the Han River. The photogrammetry obtained, working with automated workflows using a digital twin, is used from an inspection basis to detect cracks and help to detect any changes in those cracks.
“That information is used to get overall input into the kind of conditional assessment we have on our bridges for the rest of the reporting, but it is brand new in trying to automate issue detection through photogrammetry,” Mr. Vogen says.
While there are many technologies and innovative solutions emerging to help asset owners improve the way they maintain and operate road and bridge assets through data, one of the greatest challenges that remains is how to gather the information.
“That’s been the biggest challenge from an operational standpoint overall,” Mr. Vogen states. “We look at these design projects and it could be couple of interchanges or a road that goes on for 20 kilometres. When we talk in the operation space, there has to be information on every single asset. That’s the area that really takes the commitment to that collection side of it.”
Mr. Vogen agrees there are many organisations that haven’t realised the untapped potential of using data and other new automated and digital processes through the likes of AssetWise ALIM or digital twins for asset management and operation in these sorts of ways.
“We have seen that for many years asset owners were focused on trying to make sure they had as good data as they could on their overall inventory, and there have been different countries that have helped to spur that on by having the laws that required that kind of collection,” he says. “ In Australia, the UK and the US – there is much that’s done to say that funding will be withheld if those asset owners aren’t able to produce good information about their inventory. However, there are also places in the world where those standards haven’t been there and end people up saying: ‘why do I really need to collect this, where’s the value?’.
He explains that the US, as an example, has focused on the asset inventory side of roadways for improved planning, whereas other parts of the world have focused on a responsive approach to operational asset management. “Over the last couple of years, the US has come in with a requirement to provide a transportation asset management plan (TAMP). All states are required to provide a draft and this year those plans became official. Now, they’re set up for four years of reporting and compliance tracking against those plans.”
The important thing through the TAMP approach is that rather than providing information on what condition a bridge was in and what condition it is in now, asset managers are required to provide information on the condition of their asset today. On a year-by-year basis for the next four years, the asset owner then details what they are committing to in terms of improvements to the facilities they have.
“We see reports all the time that XYZ agency has 40 per cent of their bridges marked structurally deficient. The important part about these TAMPs now is they can tell the general public the road network is in bad shape, but based on the funding available, the plan for the next year is upgrade work to reduce that percentage to 36 per cent, 34 the year after that and 31 the year after that. So now, it’s been put out there that assessment of where the transport agency stands with the plan and where they need to go,” Mr. Vogen explains.
“It’s so much more accountability. What that really allows us as a software solutions provider to do is take such a next significant step from just being these systems of record for what you have and what conditions it’s in, and saying we can now use those systems to help create those improvement plans and then to monitor the actual execution against those plans.”
He says the move towards more data-driven processes and accountability in this context is an evolution towards being able to strategically use the limited funding that everybody has, but much better.
“Asset managers are seeing much more opportunity now – the US has 50 states and they all have to go through the TAMP process, which is a whole area that didn’t exist before.”
While other countries such as the UK and Australia are in a similar standing with the US when it comes to increased accountability in terms of strategic data plans and compliance for linear asset owners, there are still many that have not embraced a more strategic approach to asset management for a number of reasons.
“These things don’t come without cost. Not every agency has the inventory data that’s been worked on for so many years in so many areas. They have to look at collection costs, implementation and software maintenance costs there,” Mr. Vogen says. “We see that it’s really going to come one of two ways: where the asset owners have legislative requirements to comply with and report on – such as TAMPs – or much of what we see happening around the world, through private investment. Our governments aren’t typically worried about a bottom line – they’re not there for a profit. Where we go and have private institutions owning, controlling and operating that level of infrastructure, they are very much more bottom line concerned.”
For private industry then, the ability to improve data gathering, asset management through the likes of digital twins, photogrammetry and AssetWise-type systems is then going to be a major attraction, particularly with a shift towards more insight requirements on assets.
Mr. Vogen says Bentley Systems is increasing its focus on the asset investment planning aspect so that it can help its users use the data inventory they have available, the trends in the asset’s use and changes to the condition, quality and status of those assets.
“Most importantly, our AssetWise products and whole CDE comes into effect here. You can look internally at an asset owner and most of the time there will be someone responsible for pavements, someone responsible for bridges, someone for signs. Individually, the owner of each of those elements looks for funding and believes that they have the most important places to put some money,” he explains. “If I’m in charge of all of the signs for a transport department, I’m going to have my priority for where I need to go and put all of this funding. But, the big issue that is coming through now is there is a need for a much more holistic view of an entire inventory of assets.”
With the CDE, the asset owner can look across all of these different parts of the assets more easily and prioritise where the funding needs to go.
“With the data and the insights, we are not only helping to make the right decisions, but we are also able to look back and show that we did make the right decisions,” Mr. Vogen says.
In addition to this kind of valuable hindsight, asset managers could also use the CDE and products such as AssetWise to figure out where certain asphalt may put be out down and how it performs. “Our ability to maintain that inventory and to have those views on inspections and events recorded against the linear roads section can really help in accomplishing that,” Mr. Vogen says.
“When it’s that limited funding problem it can come down to: how can I use the data, and use these predictive processes to better spend those limited funds? If I go and reduce my inspection costs on an annual basis by 10, 20 or 30 per cent, I’ve got that much more to go out and do maintenance.
“This is the whole power of data – it’s an area where big data can really come into play where we can use those AI kinds of inspections and machine learning, and that’s where we can get into much more predictive kind of position when it comes to maintenance. It’s that whole asset investment planning that’s going to be one of the big things that we’re focusing on now.”