As engineering firms move toward developing a digital strategy, a new phrase that will resonate with engineering, architectural, and construction professionals, as well as infrastructure asset owners, is now part of the infrastructure lexicon. “Going digital” is the phrase, and it refers to the business transformation being realised as infrastructure professionals take advantage of a connected data environment by leveraging a cloud computing platform that digitally connects and converges people, processes, data, and technology to yield significant benefits.
In its broadest sense, going digital means moving data that used to be locked in application-specific files or even paper documents, and making the data inherent in these files and documents available to be consumed and analysed by other computer programs and processing. Through going digital, 3D digital engineering models created during the planning and design phase can provide the interactive 3D environment for operations and infrastructure asset performance modeling, leveraging cloud computing, predictive analytics, and operational data from the Industrial Internet of Things and other sources.
These models can now be referenced throughout the full lifecycle of an infrastructure asset, improving performance, safety, and sustainability. But what about an infrastructure asset that does not have a digital engineering model? A new and exciting technology called reality modeling – the process of capturing existing facilities and site conditions with the use of digital photographs and/or point-cloud data – enables the rapid creation of 3D, engineering-ready mesh representations of the existing, as-operated conditions.
The process is simple: overlapping photographs taken with a camera either handheld or mounted on a UAV are uploaded to a cloud processing service that automatically reconstructs the 3D model for use in engineering applications. Further detail and accuracy can be added to the model through close range photos or point-cloud data from laser scanners. In the past two years, reality modeling has gone from being a specialty service to mainstream adoption by engineering and construction firms, and by owner-operators of infrastructure assets. The speed and ease of reality modeling now makes it possible to do nearly continuous surveying to monitor construction progress and as-operated conditions. And, the resulting 3D model components can be classified and hyperlinked to engineering models, documents, and specifications (the ET or engineering technology), historical operations data, (the IT or information technology), and real-time IoT sensors (the OT or operations technology).
By going digital, the digital engineering model, whether built from scratch through design and engineering application software, or created from existing conditions through reality modeling, can deliver new value as an immersive environment to access open and live information for visual operations of infrastructure assets—bridging ET, IT, and OT—and with that visibility comes the empowerment to improve asset performance.
Making the digital enterprise real
A going digital strategy begins with information technology and seeks convergence with operational technology. As such, realising the digital enterprise would involve adding engineering technology to complete the convergence. While going digital means different things for different enterprises, in our industry, users of infrastructure engineering can take advantage of new form factors for connecting and computing in their pursuit of it. For many of our large users, the strategy is an opportunity to improve their business model for better asset performance and capital project cost reduction.
An effective digital strategy can realise benefits through all phases of the infrastructure lifecycle. In the CAPEX phase, a digital workflow can take advantage of better decision making with immersive design and collaboration in construction. For OPEX, the value of digital engineering information provides performance improvement opportunities for owner-operators seeking maximisation of assets. The core value is reducing TOTEX (total expenditure) as owners seek to manage and mitigate the risk associated with large capital projects and the ongoing maintenance over time.
Owners require information from all phases of the project lifecycle to be useful in the asset management or maintenance management systems when the asset reaches handover, which is fully realised through a digital strategy. For engineers, going digital can mean new business opportunities, such as conceptioneering (the process of quickly creating multiple iterations of a conceptual infrastructure design model with engineering content, at the beginning of a project), to constructioneering (the process of bringing engineering data directly to the field to drive construction workflows and construction equipment, during construction and into operations). It can also mean inspectioneering, which is the process of bringing as-operated and continuously surveyed, engineering reality meshes into digital engineering environments, enabling engineers to inspect and evaluate infrastructure assets from any location. And, lastly, to productioneering, which is the process of leveraging the digital engineering model, with live and open connections to IT and OT data, and predictive analytics, as an immersive environment for visual operations, decision support, and performance improvement. These are all examples of going digital, and Bentley is providing the solutions for our users to get there.
Aidan Mercer is Director Industry Marketing, AEC, at Bentley Systems (http://www.bentley.com)
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