Last year saw the infrastructure industry embrace digital solutions for the management and execution of design and construction. Roads & Infrastructure discovers how these digital changes will continue to benefit projects, contractors and owners for years to come.
The use of past decision making to enhance future experiences has grown exponentially with the rise of the internet and mobiles.
Some mobile applications now deliver advertising based on previous searches to tailor the user experience. This simple principal can now be, and is being, adapted and applied to enhance infrastructure construction.
When managing an infrastructure project digitally with the right software, data from one project can be used to inform executives, owners and contractors working on the next job.
For example, on a bridge construction project, a designer could refine volumes of a certain material based on the data collated on a similar previous project – saving time, material and money.
These kinds of realisations are facilitated with a common data platform that can house large data sets digitally from the design and planning phases, to field production and into handover or operation.
Not only is this kind of tailored information helpful when beginning a new project, but common data environments also provide a collaborative space with real-time communication throughout the entire project life cycle.
Chris Johnson, from InEight’s Digital Engineering and Project Delivery team, explains how common data platforms, such as InEight’s software network, can give the client and contractor visibility at every stage of a project.
“Through the design and construction process, we are seeing better coordination and communication between teams utilising InEight Model. This leads to fewer clashes and less waste of both time and resources,” Johnson says.
Common data environments are created by software, which stores data from across the project into relevant data dashboards. Each person working on the project is given various levels of access to this information to ensure even the smallest change in design or budget can be realised in real time across the team.
“It’s giving that real time data view. To make sure the project is running on time and on budget also helps risk mitigation so that jobs aren’t running over, and coordination issues can be found and modified before construction,” Johnson says.
InEight has seen its users reap the benefits of risk mitigation by simulating construction activities with accurate and historical data before the task is executed on site.
“One of the things I see regularly is the benefit of live updates for material takeoffs. It’s using the live data to find value on a project. This could come down to utilising your BIM model to learn that waste could be minimised on the project by using a design for manufacturing and assembly (DfMA) rather than on site cut and assembly,” he says.
“This insight comes from looking at the live data as it is coming in so you can have those realisations during construction and possibly make cost and material savings along the way.”
Intelligence from previous projects can then further help with those decisions on material takeoffs as site engineering and construction managers can view trends from previous projects about material readiness or oversupply to estimate an accurate amount.
“This extra visibility gives contractors a chance to better manage the project and their data, to give a clear indication of how a project is going throughout its entire life cycle,” Johnson says.
At the handover phase, a digital asset can then enhance the valuation of a piece of infrastructure. Digital assets give a clear indication of what has been created and how much value it may return.
“When the digital asset is handed over, that gives the owner the spatial foundation to unlock the potential for things like predictive maintenance, planning and operations, knowing where each asset is and its condition as well,” Johnson says.
“The spatial foundation they have with this information is going to lead them into options with Internet of Things capabilities, connecting sensors to assets and getting real-time data back from the asset as well.”
InEight’s modular solution allows contractors or owners to implement different management systems at any time across projects. From the basic document management modules to schedule management, estimates, contractual management systems and model management software, each solution can be implemented as needed or all at once.
Johnson says future capabilities such as the use of Internet of Things technology is the next step for digital engineering.
“In the future I see a bigger role for artificial intelligence and machine learning inside digital engineering software. This might consist of taking a database of existing projects and trying to find where things have gone wrong or right in the past and then using that as a predictive tool going forward,” he says.
“I think we are going to see a lot more utilisation of these tools in products in the future. From what we are seeing from infrastructure owners in their frameworks, they are invested into having a structured data set and creating a digital asset.”
While technology such as artificial intelligence may sound advanced, it’s increasingly being used for digital engineering. These capabilities are slowly becoming embedded as core tools for the creation of infrastructure in the digital age.