Laying the groundwork for the digital construction site

Dustin Parkman of Bentley Systems speaks to Roads & Infrastructure Magazine about new digital workflows for construction site design and delivery and where the software provider’s latest civil product – OpenSite – fits in the equation.Dustin Parkman of Bentley Systems speaks to Roads & Infrastructure Magazine about new digital workflows for construction site design and delivery and where the software provider’s latest civil product – OpenSite – fits in the equation.

In 2016, Bentley Systems launched its OpenRoads and OpenBridge Designer brands. In 2017, it added OpenRail to its portfolio of digital design applications for the infrastructure market.

For the past three years, Bentley has been updating its entire suite of civil design products, aligning them more with building information modelling (BIM) workflows and analysis tools. Complementing the range of updates released in the past few years is OpenSite, which was announced at the Year in Infrastructure 2018 Conference in London late last year. Roads & Infrastructure Magazine was at the conference for the release and spoke with Dustin Parkman, Bentley’s Vice President of Civil Modelling and Visualization. Mr. Parkman explains what OpenSite means for infrastructure projects and how digital workflows are changing the nature of civil project delivery.

“In the old way of doing things, civil engineers would have a design application that did road, drainage [and] a couple of the big assets; and maybe 2D analytical stuff. What we have been doing, and this has been an effort that started seven years ago, is building a whole new civil foundation for BIM and analysis. It started with OpenRoads designer in 2016, which we announced at that year’s Year in Infrastructure Conference,” Mr. Parkman explains.

Mr. Parkman adds that many of the fundamentals that comprise OpenRoads are also featured in OpenSite, but not in a linear context. “OpenSite is not linear – you’re more interested in pads, ponds and grading and it’s really more commoditised. It’s about cost savings and being able to rapidly design and build with a profitable margin.”

OpenSite has a range of modelling applications for site construction projects, such as geotechnical, subsurface drainage and utilities. OpenSite users can also interface with high-end analysis products, such as PLAXIS – geotechnical engineering software that Bentley acquired in 2018.

“PLAXIS is really about analysing the impact of the soil condition and how that relates to a subsurface structure, whether that relates to a piling, a tunnel – it could be a retaining wall that has earth against it,” Mr. Parkman explains. “It gives users the ability to understand soil conditions and how that behaves with a structure, so that you can prevent things like structural failure.”

OpenSite allows engineers to analyse and design for not only the site, but the complex and intricate aspects of the project and how they interact with each other, including hydraulics, utilities, geotechnical aspects, the site modelling for pads, ponds and interfacing with buildings whether through Bentley Systems’ OpenBuilding products or other kinds of multidiscipline systems.

“One of OpenSite’s key financial benefits is that it can provide more context than any other civil design product in the world. The application allows you to bring in all these things so you can make better decisions quickly, in a much more digital context, whether on [the] low- or high-fidelity side,” Mr. Parkman explains.

The application can be quite high in fidelity, utilising extremely detailed survey inputs like LiDAR, reality models or ground-penetrating radar for existing utilities to prevent clashes.

“All of this information and context can be taken into consideration during the analysis.” Cut-and-fill analysis of earthworks, for instance, isn’t a new concept, but Mr. Parkman says that OpenSite provides a major difference in that its optimisation engine will run millions of options to determine the most cost-effective model and show different scenarios to take into consideration to optimise site design.

Automation is king here, which Mr. Parkman asserts is a huge time saver. “You could do a 10 per cent conceptual design, which involves sketching out polygons and deciding where parking lots go, for instance. Then you can run an analysis in OpenSite, and it will tell you [that] if you did it in a certain way you could reduce your cost by 10 per cent.”

As the top surface on a project site changes, things like drainage requirements will change as well. OpenSite has those analysis tools built into it for optimising the drainage flow and where catch basins and piping needs to go to avoid conflict or things like subsurface bedrock.

“By taking the geotechnical, existing subsurface utility information into consideration to your algorithm, you can really fine-tune things as opposed to just running the analysis on the top-level surface,” Mr. Parkman explains. “The top-level surface is fine from a conceptual design standpoint, but as you get more and more data, you can get the analysis as [close to] 30 per cent design, and [possibly] 60 per cent, and that’s something [few] design products [on the market] can do.”

OpenSite is compatible with Bentley’s other infrastructure brands, including OpenRoads and OpenRail. Its analysis capabilities also complement the infrastructure industry’s move towards more automated workflows between surveying, engineering and construction processes, a concept Bentley Systems calls “constructioneering”.

Constructioneering is a joint initiative between Bentley and surveying equipment specialist Topcon. It enables engineers to begin working with an accurate 3D model of current construction site conditions, as captured by Topcon’s photogrammetry and laser scanners. This model can then be processed into engineering-ready, 3D reality meshes using Bentley’s ContextCapture.

“The constructioneering story fits perfectly into OpenSite. It’s the same technology we’ve used with Topcon for heavy civil design, survey acquisition and continuous monitoring. OpenSite does this and almost all sites are using automated machine guidance, so that comes automatically,” Mr. Parkman says..

“We will probably expand our constructioneering academies to have more site-orientated workflows in the future. But at the end of the day, the construction and project cycle is going to be much shorter for site projects than it is for linear, but it’s the same stuff. You’re going to have a number of data acquisition techniques whether it be terrestrial survey, LiDAR, reality modelling with drones, GPR. All that stuff is going to be relevant, no matter what you’re constructing.”

Aside from the benefits of utilising BIM workflows, automation and analysis in the civil site context through OpenSite, Mr. Parkman says a major drawcard for the application is its use as a financial savings tool.

“I think we’re far beyond the days of how can I design and get PDF deliverables out faster. OpenSite does that quickly and as well as any product on the market, but people don’t change how they do things for five or ten per cent savings on a design process. They will change if you can reduce five or ten per cent on the overall construction cost of your site, as it aligns better with business outcomes rather than the efficiencies of the engineering department,” he says.

“The margins onsite are extremely tight. If you can save someone two per cent on construction that’s huge, because they’re probably only making a three per cent profit margin, now. By doing a few things better on the construction side, you can really start to impact the profitability for those firms by a magnitude of 30 or 40 per cent.”

Mr. Parkman says the civil sector still faces many challenges, and adopting digital workflows that are included in OpenSite can go a long way to improving efficiencies in the delivery process. “One of the things I hope it improves is not only civil site design, but making that whole geotechnical backbone a bit stronger, so that geotechnical data collection is more about an asset.”

For a roadway owner-operator, geotechnical data is their asset, and mining that data is just as important as sending out a crew to start the project.

“The land acquisition for a road project is massive, so the owner can build up a massive asset inventory of what the subsurface is over time. We already have all this information about the asset, but unfortunately it exists in filing cabinets and PDFs and so the data’s dark. Making that data open and having the ability to analyse it continually, and have civil products consume it as reality data, is something that I think will be a big advantage.”

For Mr. Parkman, adopting and adapting BIM methodologies in the civil infrastructure space has generally been slower than the vertical and industrial sectors, but he says applications like OpenSite will play a strong role in influencing the uptake of more digital engineering workflows going forward.

“It’s going to be a culture shock initially because it is a different way of doing things. The site world is still very 2D-oriented, and the systems being used today aren’t extremely intelligent. It’s more about rapidly getting out the construction deliverables. I think this will be a real game changer for how the industry thinks about it, and they can align the tool more with their business outcome rather than thinking of an old-school consulting hours type of approach.

“When their goal in life is to bill hours, they’re not incentivised based on performance. They are incentivised by the number of hours it takes to complete a job. I think as those businesses catch up with the other civil and performance-based businesses, they’re going to want to use a tool like this because they want to put more profit in their business.”

Mr. Parkman says Australia is where there is an enormous opportunity and necessity for infrastructure asset owners to start thinking digitally and smarter around using data-centric software platforms, such as OpenSite.

“Australia is experiencing a huge spike in infrastructure that it hasn’t seen in probably 50 years. He says that the sharp spike in infrastructure projects means there is likely more work than there are engineers, meaning supply cannot keep up with demand.

“You’re not going to be able to keep doing the same things you did 10 years ago. We’ve been working closely with New South Wales, Western Australia, Tasmania and even Queensland to some extent to explain what it means to start doing things much differently,” Mr. Parkman says.

“We’ve been doing the constructioneering academies throughout Australia with partners like Position Partners. I think people are receptive – they can move faster in my opinion, but I think they are waking up to the fact we can’t do things the way we did 15 years ago.”

The key, he says, is to design, deliver and operate infrastructure assets more efficiently, because manpower is a fixed commodity: “It’s a limited pool of resources with which you have to execute.”

Mr. Parkman asserts that the infrastructure sector has begun accepting the various digital concepts such as BIM methodologies and concepts like digital twins in general. The next step is to implement them.

“At this point it’s not very revolutionary as everyone has bought into the idea. Now we’re just blocking and tackling and getting people to do it. Change is hard for an organisation, and our industry in general is very risk adverse – they don’t jump, they take a step. We are seeing that everyone is making the right steps, and Bentley’s technology is helping to accelerate the possibilities.”

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