Digital twins helping to save engineering hours on infrastructure projects

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Infrastructure engineering software company Bentley Systems has described 2023 as a groundbreaking year for infrastructure intelligence, with organisations globally overcoming the ever-growing engineering resource capacity gap using digital technologies.

At Bentley Systems’ Year in Infrastructure (YII) conference, including the 2023 Going Digital Awards in Infrastructure, held in Singapore on October 11 and 12, Bentley Systems CEO Greg Bentley said the finalists for this year’s awards reported an average 18% of engineering hours saved in the last year through digital advancements.

He highlighted multiple infrastructure intelligence strategies that organisations are using to further compound the value of their data, including reusing digital components, integrating subsurface modelling, artificial intelligence (AI) and incorporating operational data from sensors, drones and even crowdsourcing into digital twins.

In this regard, finalists were asked to illustrate how they use applications and software such as Bentley Systems’ iTwin Platform and AssetWise to manage and increase infrastructure intelligence over the lifecycle of projects and assets.

Bentley Systems estimates that the company’s engineering users accumulate at least 100-million new unique digital components a month within their respective ProjectWise environments, teeing up potential infrastructure intelligence benefits across construction, operations and maintenance.

As an indication that digital twins are becoming mainstream, the proportion of Going Digital Awards finalists crediting iTwin has risen to 64% this year, the company pointed out.

Digital twins are increasingly being used to optimise decision-making and operations, particularly in Singapore.

For example, Singapore’s national water agency, PUB, is working with Bentley Systems to develop a new system in detecting and localising water system anomalies and leaks in near real time. Through a high-fidelity digital twin, AI-based predictive models and hydraulic network model calibration and simulation, the project could potentially help improve resilience and conservation of the water network.

Additionally, Singapore’s multimodel public transport system, called SMRT Trains, uses Bentley Systems’ AssetWise Linear Analytics software as the basis for its predictive decision support system to prioritise maintenance.

In turn, the Land Transport Authority of Singapore uses Bentley Systems’ mobility digital twin software for its long-term and short-term planning, including operational traffic models for traffic impact and scheme analysis.

Moreover, Bentley Systems chief product officer Mike Campbell said Bentley Systems Infrastructure Cloud leverages infrastructure digital twins to unlock data to apply AI and accelerate infrastructure intelligence.

For example, professional services firm WSP Australia digital director Henry Okraglik said, using the ProjectWise, SYNCHRO, iTwin and other Bentley Systems products, WSP was able to reduce modelling time by 60% and increase productivity by 25% on a rail network project in Melbourne, all while reducing the carbon footprint of the project by 30%.

To systematically introduce the benefits of digital twins in the design phase, Campbell announced the addition of iTwin capabilities in Bentley Open Applications, for modeling and simulation, starting with MicroStation.

With iTwin capabilities and workflows natively integrated, Bentley Open Applications will be able to automatically create digital twins during the design process, enabling users to collaborate in real-time, evaluate the impact of changes more seamlessly, reduce rework, and expedite infrastructure intelligence.

Notably, Campbell said, by bringing AI capabilities, powered by iTwin, to Bentley Open Applications, all users will be able to leverage digital twin technology to improve their efficiency and effectiveness during design.

Bentley Systems chief technology officer Julien Moutte said the company has a multifaceted approach to generative AI for design, guided by the company’s commitment to help users gain ever more value from their own engineering data secured in Bentley Infrastructure Cloud.

He pointed out that generative AI can be applied to minimise time spent on project documentation by automating drawing production with fit-for-purpose annotations.

“We believe iTwin-powered generative AI capabilities will support engineers by augmenting the work they are already doing. We see iTwin becoming a co-pilot to support better decision-making, reduce repetitive tasks and increase design quality.

“It can help close the engineering resource capacity gap by not only empowering current engineers to produce more, but also by enabling a more rewarding work experience, which may entice future engineers to join the community advancing infrastructure,” Moutte added.

Meanwhile, the Going Digital Awards in Infrastructure saw 36 finalists compete in 12 award categories. Bentley Systems received more than 300 nominations for the awards submitted by 235 organisations across 51 countries.

The project submissions of the finalists reflect how organisations have improved their workflows by embracing digital technologies to maximise efficiency and cost savings. Although most of the finalists hail from Asia, engineering and infrastructure solutions company Smec South Africa was a finalist in the roads and highways category for its N4 Montrose Interchange project, in Mpumalanga.

LOCAL EXCELLENCE

The Montrose Interchange project was initiated to replace an existing at-grade T-junction on the N4 highway, which has improved traffic mobility, safety and the province’s economy and tourism.

Considering its position between two rivers amid steep valleys between mountains, the project presented difficult terrain for implementing new free-flow interchange on a short timeline with no available survey data.

In bidding for the contract, Smec realised that its traditional, manual two-dimensional strategies would not suffice to meet the project challenges and requirements, including to use much of the existing infrastructure.

To this end, Smec selected Bentley Systems technologies such as ContextCapture to develop a reality mesh of the existing terrain and infrastructure, as well as LumenRT to present their conceptual design. These programmes enabled Smec to win the contract and deliver a workable design of the interchange in record time.

Thereafter, Smec used OpenRoads Designer with the bridge team’s modelling software, as well as corridor modelling tools, for accurate earthworks and material quantity calculations – which reduced the carbon footprint of the project.

Working in a collaborative digital environment saved about 2 500 hours in design time and an estimated R2.5-million in design costs.

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