Advancing road and rail infrastructure

Bentley Systems’ Brian Middleton talks about the new digital platforms for designing, constructing and operating road and rail infrastructure, and what they could mean for Australia.Home to iconic landmarks and architectural marvels such as the Helix Bridge, the Esplanade and Marina Bay Sands, Singapore was aptly also host to some important announcements relating to the future of infrastructure design, construction and operation.

Bentley Systems held its Year in Infrastructure Conference for 2017 (YII2017) in the island city-state this past October. The global engineering and architecture software provider used the annual gathering of international infrastructure specialists to announce the launch of its latest platforms and solutions aimed at advancing infrastructure through building information modelling (BIM).

Most notable in the product launches was Bentley Systems’ OpenRail solution – a new platform which comprises applications and services for the comprehensive planning, engineering, project delivery and operations of rail and transit infrastructure.

Brian Middleton, Bentley Systems Vice President ANZ, talks to Roads & Infrastructure Magazine about what the announcement of OpenRail means for the future of rail infrastructure, it’s significance in the uptake of BIM for infrastructure in general, and where Australia can improve how it designs, delivers and maintains its infrastructure.

Mr. Middleton says one of the main aims of the rail-orientated digital platform is to reduce the risks around project design, delivery and operation.

Because a railway is a complicated system of connected components – arguably more so than any other civil infrastructure asset – industrialising BIM for asset delivery and performance was a key driver behind Bentley Systems’ development of OpenRail.

“There are a number of risks associated with rail infrastructure simply because it’s one of the worst performing areas in terms of project costs running over. The average rail project runs 140 per cent over original budget and where the asset underperforms by roughly one third in operations,” explains Mr. Middleton. “It’s an area where we see a need to provide a more seamless and informative platform for the operators.”

The foundation to OpenRail is Bentley Systems’ connected data environment (CDE), where all of 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.

The CDE comprises the shared services of Bentley Systems’ ProjectWise and AssetWise applications, configured specifically for rail systems engineering workflows.

ProjectWise facilitates collaboration among distributed engineering teams for native engineering content, coordination of structured workflows such as ISO19560, and connected project visibility. For OpenRail, AssetWise provides asset lifecycle information services for linear, network and geospatial referencing, corridor maintenance decision support, inspection workflows, and reliability and change management.

OpenRail CDE services also include Components Center for digital components, ContextShare for digital context, ComplyPro for progressive assurance and ConstructSim Systems Completions for accessing operational readiness.

ComplyPro is utilised for governance of collaborative assurance systems of technical and safety requirements from concept to project handover. OpenRail extends this scope to progressive operations assurance and regulatory compliance. ConstructSim Systems Completions automates the inspections process to accelerate systems progress and validate system readiness for efficient project turnover and closeout.

The release of OpenRail complements Bentley’s announcement of OpenRoads in 2016 – the company’s digital solution offering the same CDE platform for road infrastructure.

The CDE proves valuable when the information on the asset is in one package that is accurate, current, approved and can be handed over to be utilised for operational and maintenance purposes.

“OpenRoads and OpenRail complete the lifecycle benefits for the users as the CDE gives them the ability to share information openly, transparently and intelligently,” Mr. Middleton says. “It’s effectively reducing risks by making sure you’re sharing information that is consistent, up to date and approved. The capability means engineers don’t continue to waste time trying to find and validate the information they need,” he says, adding that approximately 40 per cent of engineers’ time is spent searching for information across multiple databases. Having it all in one place cuts time and costs, and the connected database is a major benefit for project managers by giving them the ability to complete the work in the most cost-effective way.

“Having this shared, open source of information on a project provides better information to make better operational or capital expense decisions – it’s accurate, it’s accessible and it’s safer. The information can be shared with everyone, and the ability to securely share that information regardless of location is another advantage.”

The idea of the CDE reduces the risk of inaccuracy and minimises the need for rework simply because the information is approved and up to date, he adds. “Because there’s so much more flexibility you can minimise rework. You can make a change in the CDE if something’s not right without incurring the significant costs that can typically occur down the track.”

Mr. Middleton says a big proportion of cost on rail projects has typically been after the transition stage between design and construction to operations and maintenance. If some operational facet of the design is incorrect on a conventional rail project and it is only picked up following design and construction, it can incur significant costs.

However, with a CDE and platform such as OpenRail, all information is readily available for the asset managers, prior to them taking over operation and maintenance of the asset, which Mr. Middleton says can prove invaluable for the future of the asset, given the operations managers will be the ones maintaining it for the next 100 years or so.

“Reducing operational risk is something we’re seeing be achieved by major stakeholders through OpenRoads, and we expect to see the same results in OpenRail,” Mr. Middleton says.

Bentley Systems also launched its universal translator for third-party apps at the YII17, which means CAD designers using different programs on the same project will have their information automatically translated to the same file type for the CDE. “This is the first of its kind we’ve seen around the world in infrastructure, and it’s making open standard and open source concepts even more accessible,” Mr. Middleton says.

OpenRoads and OpenRail are a culmination  of many existing Bentley Systems concepts, including the reality modelling, and all play an important role in the lifecycle of an asset. Mr. Middleton exemplifies Melbourne’s Metro Tunnel. “It’s an eight-year project with several years of planning prior to construction – it’s about 14 years before we see the benefits of the infrastructure. However, if we used Bentley Systems’ platforms, we could shorten the time to benefits realisation, particularly through our reality modelling applications,” he says.

The company’s ContextCapture software has been employed internationally in cities to build a highly detailed, photo-textured 3D “reality mesh” model of a city from digital photos. Base imagery is collected through a variety of means including aerial photography and imagery captured on the ground, which includes everything from building façades to street views and more.

The images help form a 3D mesh model, which can then be enhanced with maps and designs. The model can then be used for myriad applications, from project management to asset maintenance and even event planning.

“We could collect the information to form a reality model of Melbourne that could show the outcome of Melbourne Metro and what benefits it will bring. That information can then be directly loaded into OpenRoads and OpenRail used in the CDE,” Mr. Middleton says.

That same model of Melbourne could then be used by other companies looking to envision what impacts their assets will have on the city before they are constructed.

“OpenRoads has really taken off in terms of organisations starting to recognise the benefits as we move towards full digitalisation. Making this kind of digital information available on rail is going to be important into the future, especially as a big challenge is population growth and the need for cities to urbanise and improve their transport infrastructure and management systems,” Mr. Middleton says.

“More input into design is really what OpenRoads and OpenRail is bringing to the market for operation and maintenance managers. This just means they can make better, more informed operations decisions about how infrastructure is being constructed, which in turn means they can take an asset into operations and maintenance stage effectively for the next 100 years of its life.”

The road ahead for Australia

Mr. Middleton says for Australia to be able to realise the benefits of BIM, CDEs and platforms such as OpenRail and OpenRoads for infrastructure assets, it needs to address the obstacles to their uptake within the Australian context.

“Australia is no different to the other developed countries around the world in that we are realising the ineffectiveness of our current delivery of infrastructure projects,” he says.

“Australia is well positioned to adopt and adapt software and concepts such as OpenRoads and OpenRail and reality modelling,” he explains, adding that there are a number of reasons the country struggles to innovate and adopt such platforms.

“There are multiple factors. According to the recent World Economic Forum report, Australia has a highly educated workforce and high quality technology capability, but we are poor in productivity from a people point of view and we’re not seen as innovators,” he says. “We’re one of the most successful economies in terms of economic growth and we have the smarts and the engineers to address the innovation shortfall.

“We already have Australian businesses working with Bentley Systems and creating reality models of all the major cities in Australia. That means other organisations can access, on demand, and utilise sections of the model they want to use for their own projects. But, there are issues that limit our progress in Australia in this space and we have to address that.”

Mr. Middleton says this lack of capacity to innovate also affects Australia’s ability to establish its leading cities as smart cities.

“I don’t think we can have a smart city without smart city transport infrastructure,” he says, explaining that there are a number of examples of other countries that are innovating how they deliver design, construction and operations of their road and rail assets that Australia can learn from.

Regardless of the provider platform, Mr. Middleton says BIM, CDEs and other digital design and operations management platforms are key to helping drive these innovations globally.

Highways England – the UK government organisation charged with operating and maintaining England’s road network – identified the need to optimise its network and set itself the goal of having 97 per cent network availability at all times. In short, this means only 3 per cent of the United Kingdom’s major road and motorway network could be closed at any one time.

The agency manages lane closures across 4300 miles (6920 kilometres) of motorways and major roads that make up the network, so it was no easy challenge to overcome.

Highways England utilised Bentley Systems’ AssetWise platform to create an asset lifecycle information management solution – its Network Occupancy Management System. With it, Highways England aims to reduce the number of lane closure events by 6000 a month, and forecasts the potential to save GB£7.02 million per year as a result, delivering a 1651 per cent return on investment.

“Because they have a rolling renewals smart network control system in place, they can do digital clash detection for network events in their operations platform, so there are no overlaps in maintenance on capital projects,” Mr. Middleton says. “When government and authorities set these types of challenges engineers rise to them.”

While there are examples of successful BIM and Bentley Systems-provided solutions in the UK and elsewhere internationally, Mr. Middleton asserts that one of the biggest considerations for Australia in adopting concepts such as OpenRoads and OpenRail, is its sheer size. “Australia is the same landmass as the US, but our population is 23-24 million people versus 350 million in the US. Even the UK has three times the population of Australia with one thirtieth of the landmass,” he says. “We have to be really effective in Australia in regards to asset management. We have to sweat the assets and make the most out of them, particularly as demand increases.”

Mr. Middleton says the asset managers and project engineers, despite having the ability and appetite to implement such innovations, just don’t have the capacity or resources to do so effectively.

“Most Australian engineers are aware of the potential to advance our infrastructure processes. However, being the people that look after our assets in this country, more than 90 per cent of their time is taken up with day-to-day operations,” he says. “We should recognise the constraints on the professionals looking after these assets and provide capacity to help them make the best decisions for Australia’s infrastructure.”

Mr. Middleton says this limits what stakeholders can do to quickly advance Australia’s digital infrastructure space.

“Bentley Systems is a software company, 100 per cent of what we do is software, and there’s only so much we can do to help introduce these concepts to the industry. The best way for us to implement these kinds of ideas is through sharing other countries’ best practice,” he says. “Australia could reap significant benefits if we just adopted what other people around the world are doing, adapt it for our conditions and then improve it using Australian smarts.

“We’ve already created a 3D model of Singapore to help with their underground and elevated transport infrastructure, and there are plenty of other examples everywhere we can learn from, including in the UK, US, China and Malaysia. These are whole of life applications that already exist and can be adapted for Australian conditions.”

Mr. Middleton argues that many countries are evolving beyond that mindset of not doing something because “we’ve always done it this way”, with many embracing the lessons BIM and CDE applications already proved on infrastructure projects. “What I would like to see is the introduction of new digital engineering methods on Australian projects, because people will able work more effectively when they can access accurate and complete information to make more informed decisions,” Mr. Middleton asserts.

“The products have the technological capability to provide an enabling platform for innovation. Yes we can help with that, but we need to get people on board with the positive message stemming from their use around the world. The question is: How can Australia obtain these kinds of benefits and become more effective at infrastructure design, delivery and management? Adopt, adapt and improve.”

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