Year in Infrastructure conference highlights digital twin innovation

At the Year in Infrastructure conference, hosted by infrastructure software company Bentley Systems, audiences were told that adoption of digital tools for infrastructure delivery and operations will only accelerate after the experience of COVID-19.

With global investment in infrastructure as method of economic recovery coming together with the impetus for more sustainable methods of construction and mobility, efficiencies through using digital tools are becoming unavoidable.

Through the use of digital twins for modelling and simulations in the design and construction phase, or for monitoring asset and network performance in the operational stage, more environmentally friendly materials can be used, waste can be reduced, while costs can be reduced and timelines shortened.

In addition, as COVID-19 has demonstrated, projects will still need to continue even when workforces are dispersed, either working from home, or across countries without being able to easily meet in person.

These factors have meant that digital tools such as those supplied by Bentley Systems are invaluable for infrastructure builders, managers, and operators.

Another macro factor that is impacting on the adoption of digital tools in the infrastructure space is the possibilities of big data and IoT. With more data being collected than ever, modelling and simulation software will be needed to make sense of this data and allow it to be seen as a productive resource.

One example of the benefit of digital twins can be seen in the adoption of digital engineering tools in the design and construction of the world’s tallest rail pier girder bridge in northern India. Constructed by Indian Railways, the railway bridge is required to support high-speed and broad gauge trains for the next century in difficult terrain. Seismic events and strong winds were also a concern for the 141 metre tall bridge.

On of the Year in Infrastructure Awards finalists, Indian Railways is using Bentley tools including OpenRail, PLAXIS, and STAAD, and the project has been able to make savings of US$24.61 million ($34.58m). These efficiencies were found through the better selection of types of materials and construction methodologies.

Once the bridge is complete, embedded instruments and drone surveys will be used to monitor the health of the bridge remotely, with a digital twin used to simulate how the bridge is behaving and the effect of inputs. This will ensure the infrastructure manager will be able to make timely decisions to ensure the sustainability of the bridge.

Aurizon targets net zero operational emissions by 2050

Aurizon will invest $50m in low carbon locomotives such as battery and hydrogen-powered trains to meet a net zero goal by 2050.

The freight hauler and network owner will also look to maximise the benefits of the electrified freight network in Queensland, particularly as more renewable energy is fed into the grid.

Managing director and CEO of Aurizon, Andrew Harding said that the company was confident that technology would meet the company’s goals.

“We are confident that rapidly-advancing technology in the rail sector will unlock major benefits like we are seeing in motor vehicles, energy generation and general industry. Our focus will be low-carbon technology for our locomotive fleet which accounts for more than 90 per cent of Aurizon’s CO2 emissions.”

In addition to actions undertaken internally, Aurizon will also push for government action.

“We directly advocate for policy actions to increase the use of rail freight on key national freight corridors. Our aim is to ensure that rail freight remains competitive and part of the solution as the economy transitions to a low-carbon future,” said Harding.

The company’s commitment follows the latest Sustainability Report from the freight operator. In the report, Aurizon advocates for lowered electricity costs to reduce the risk of substituting electric locomotives for diesel-powered trains. In addition, Aurizon outlines that the company has been advocating for greater infrastructure investment, improvements to regulation and finding efficiencies at interfaces between modes.

To meet the goal of lower emissions, Aurizon said that it would be making significant investments in new rollingstock shortly.

“Aurizon is already working with other railroads and manufacturers on the early development of battery and hydrogen-powered locomotives for deployment in a heavy-haul railway environment. This includes options of upgrades to the existing fleet and new rollingstock. We would expect to see prototypes trialling on our network by 2025, as technology advances and costs come down further,” said Harding.

“Locomotives are long-life assets of 20 – 30 years. We have some significant decisions ahead in renewing our locomotive fleet – potential game-changers for the freight industry – when we invest in the next generations of rollingstock to power our business through to 2050.”