With digital twins being used more and more by owner operators, consultants, and contractors, delegates at the recent AusRAIL PLUS conference were able to learn more about their application from leading infrastructure engineering software company Bentley Systems, a pioneer of this technology.
The company’s Industry Marketing Director Transportation, Steve Cockerell, was on hand to elaborate on how the Bentley digital twins, or iTwins, are helping deliver different and improved outcomes for its users.
“One thing we as an industry are not short of is data, from traditional survey information, to LiDAR data, and increasingly big data, including from IoT (Internet of Things) connected sensors on assets. It is critical therefore that users can see, access, and trust their data, in order to realise its maximum potential,” he said.
“What it all really boils down to is that data and the insights we can draw from it, are key to an organisation’s ability to make better decisions, and in turn deliver different and improved business outcomes.”
And it’s within this context that digital twins have come to the fore.
“A digital twin is a realistic and dynamic digital representation of an asset, process or system in the built or natural environment. In our industry, anything you’re designing, building, or operating,” Cockerell said.
“While digital twins might not be mainstream yet, it’s certainly happening. Connecting the physical and digital worlds, they’re dynamically linked so that the digital representation reflects changes in near or real time to the physical asset.
“With data from the physical asset visible through the digital twin, users are able to leverage the insight gained to make different decisions on interventions, whether in project delivery or operations and maintenance to deliver outcomes that might include improved productivity, reliability, or sustainability in the future.
“Digital twins are much like the human brain, especially when you apply technology like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to deliver infrastructure intelligence.
“As humans we take different feeds and information – senses, sights, sounds, feelings, and then use the evidence gained to make decisions in life.
“Infrastructure digital twins allow us to do exactly that in our work lives.
“First, federating the digital context of what exists in the real world, its 3D surveyed reality, using operational technology. Then, the chronology, or timeline of change happening to assets, processes, or systems via information technology.
“Finally, adding the detail within digital components that represent the stuff that gets built – track, OLE, stations, and structures, via engineering technology.”
Cockerell provided an example of how Bentley digital twins can benefit the operation, maintenance, and/or upgrade of a railway.
“In this scenario, you might start with IoT data from sensors across the network, and consume those within your digital twin,” he said.
“Using technology available now, owner operators can inspect and monitor their network to see how it’s performing, before deciding on the best action or intervention, to ensure continued safety and reliability.
“They might then use existing enterprise-wide systems, to define the work that needs to happen. Digital twins enable teams to go out into the field, armed with all the information needed to do the right work, in the right place, at the right time.
“At some point, whether due to existing capacity or predicted future demand, the time will come to upgrade or expand the network, requiring survey teams to go out and collect more data. For example, a drone survey, as the basis for project planning, or route selection, before entering the design phase.
“At this point it gets more complicated, involving lots more people, disciplines, data and complexity. Here digital twins enable teams to collaborate more efficiently, identify and resolve potential clashes in the design, optimise construction schedules and activities, or more effectively execute closures.”
The Bentley digital twin technology is already being used on projects across Australia, including Cross River Rail, which is building tracks under the Brisbane River and CBD.
“The project includes 10.2 kilometres of new railway, 5.9 km of twin tunnels, multiple new stations – above and below ground, throughout the city, and down in the Gold Coast,” Cockerell said.
At the heart of Cross River Rail’s project DNA or “digital network approach” is a commitment to creating, using, and then leaving behind an operable digital twin of the infrastructure being built. Its common data environment (CDE) provides the single, central repository for all the multidiscipline data the project is creating.
In addition to BIM models, Cross River Rail’s CDE includes GIS information, gamification, and visualisation, all underpinned by an integrated dashboard that creates a data-driven environment so that team members can achieve better outcomes in real time.
With the environment containing 14 million separate assets, and re-authoring itself as frequently as every four hours, the Cross River Rail team has access to the latest information upon which to make their decisions. It is also considering ways in which the data might be used for operations and maintenance into the future.
Digital twins have also been deployed on the Port Rail Transformation Project in Melbourne, which aims to increase rail terminal capacity and improve connections with the Victorian rail system, so that more containers can be moved by rail rather than by truck.
As part of an alliance with the contractor and client, WSP provided consultancy services for the project, leveraging Bentley’s digital twin technology to create a dynamic ISO19650-compliant data environment, that ensured smooth, efficient collaboration and communication for 250 team members across five organisations.
Digital twins helped visualise, track, maintain, share, and analyse design information, reducing data duplication and rework. Streamlined workflows and stakeholder communication helped resolve 3200 issues within the design planning stage, saving more than 475 project hours, and keeping the project on schedule.
Looking forward, Cockerell said that Bentley will continue to build on its three existing digital twins products – iTwin Capture, iTwin IoT, and iTwin Experience –plus bridge monitoring solution, using iTwin technology and digital workflows
“Released earlier this year, iTwin Capture enables users to capture, manage, and share engineering-ready data, such as digital imagery and point clouds, as the basis of digital twins for onwards use in the asset life cycle,” he said.
“With iTwin IOT, users can remotely monitor, analyse, and manage all of their instrumentation systems and sensor data, to provide visibility and analysis of an assets current and historical performance.
“Finally, iTwin Experience acts as a “single pane of glass” for owner-operators and their supply chains to visualise, analyse, manage, and share infrastructure digital twins in their full context.
“Encouraged by our users’ behaviour, and in response to industry demand, first out of the station will be new solutions for rail design and engineering, and rail construction planning, both which target helping our users to work smarter, not harder, in what is an increasingly challenging industry.”