With the emergence of state government digital engineering frameworks, improved processes and technologies for design, delivery and management of infrastructure are becoming increasingly pertinent. Roads & Infrastructure speaks to Bentley Systems about the move to digital twin concepts.
The construction industry is currently undergoing a digital shift. While the base of the trade continues to be manual labour, aspects such as management, planning, design, communication and risk mitigation are evolving toward further digitisation.
Across the construction sector, companies are at various stages of their digital transformation journey. But one concept is widely recognised as a solution for construction companies to streamline planning, designs, reporting and evaluation of projects – the digital twin.
Digital twins are a replica of a physical entity, a visual representation of an existing or proposed asset along with the associated engineering information.
A digital twin will reflect the entirety of an asset and can be narrowed down to present the smallest of details in a project in real time, even as they change on site.
Dave Body, senior industry strategy manager – civil infrastructure (ANZ) at Bentley Systems, says, globally, the construction industry has been slow to implement digitisation and as projects grow the opportunities for improvement using new processes and technology are gaining attention.
“Projects are getting larger and more complex with shorter delivery times and this is prompting industry to look at how they deliver these projects,” he says.
“The industry has now begun a paradigm shift toward a more digital approach. However, as we begin this transition, we are caught within the ‘twilight zone,’ whereby we haven’t quite let go of our traditional business as usual process and technologies, and we haven’t fully embraced all the new and available processes and technologies.”
In recent years the New South Wales Government has developed and released its Digital Engineering Framework and the Victorian government has created the Victorian Digital Asset Strategy. These frameworks and guidelines are helping set the standard for industry and outline steps for change towards digital management of design, construction and maintenance.
“In Australia, governments are starting to take the lead and have done an excellent job in describing why there is a need for a digital approach and what is expected from industry. However, governments have challenged industry to come up with how it will be delivered,” Body says.
Bentley Systems has taken up this challenge and has invested in this space over the last few years, to create a wide ranging and open digital twin ecosystem.
“At the moment, the industry has the core tenets of a digital twin such as survey or reality models, building information models, geotechnical information, underground utilities and so on. However, a digital twin can be distributed in many formats across a wide array of disciplines and personas. When we get to the design phase, the problem is industry can find it difficult to federate all this information quickly and efficiently,” Body says.
“Coordination and integration of these disparate forms of information, so they are readable and accessible, is a challenge.”
Digital twins are regarded as evergreen sources of information, meaning that from conceptualisation, the technology is dynamic and will mature as more information is brought into the process.
Bentley Systems has spent years creating the iTwin ecosystem as well as a range of services, micro-services or applications that support a digital twin work flow. Companies can start to implement this technology at any stage of their digitisation journey.
“We’ve opened up our iTwin ecosystem, so it allows users or developers to leverage this technology and create their own services, microservices or applications that meet their immediate requirements,” Body says.
“Infrastructure projects, once they are built, need to last up to 100 years or more. We want open access to this digital twin over this period and beyond, which is why we are making the ecosystem as open as possible.”
As a business begins to implement its digital twin, Bentley has an online survey and a dedicated team to assist them in understanding their digital maturity, helping organisations plan how to implement their digital advancement.
From a construction contractors’ point of view, they can continuously work with and add content to a digital twin in a way that meets their needs. This ever changing and updated Digital Twin is a representation and portal into the single source of truth for the project.
“For asset managers, we are starting to see them create detailed reality meshes of their assets to represent a digital twin, which is geospatially and accurately located. This is a really simple way in which owners can begin a digital twin journey by connecting the engineering information directly to the reality model, creating a digital twin.”
For both parties a major benefit to using digital twins is often seen at the handover phase of projects.
“For handover, traditionally information has been captured on projects that resides in all types of applications, spreadsheets, design plans, PDFs and so on. This takes a huge amount of time to find and validate the information before compiling it in a readable form,” Body says.
“With a digital twin you have all the information in one place; it is a single source of truth and it is accessible to all approved persons across the entire life cycle of the asset.”
Owners and contractors alike can view digital twins and pull out whatever information they need from any portion of the asset.
“There is a definite shift happening. I’ve been in the industry for a little while now, and I’ve seen industry transform from drafting board to CAD. I think this shift is of equal value to our industry if not more,” Body says.