At the Spar 3D Expo and Conference in Houston Greg Bentley gave a keynote in the morning in which he especially focused on reality modeling and how this technology had been applied to model in 3D the route and venues during the Pope's visit to Philadelphia. He emphasized how useful the model had been for the event organizers and the security people.
Greg, this morning in your talk you mentioned better project delivery and better asset performance and reliability in the same sentence. Is Bentley moving in the direction of enabling a full lifecycle construction process ?
While almost all significant construction projects are done from a 3D model, almost always it is a model created from scratch by the construction contractor. We use the term construction modeling for this. But by losing the design model at the beginning of construction, you have just neutered the design intent and optioneering that the design professionals did with their design model. You could say it's great that construction enterprises are always using 3D, and it is. But starting a new construction model prevents the information reuse of the design model for better asset performance. To the extent that the asset was designed for better asset performance, that potential is lost.
During the operations and maintenance phase of a facility, the digital engineering models should serve as the digital DNA and be the frame of reference for the baseline operating decisions needed to enable the asset to perform as it was designed. But if there is a disconnect at the construction phase, then the work of the engineers, which should be paying off over the full lifecycle of the asset, is absolutely truncated in terms of benefits from the engineering design.
I believe we need to attract digital natives to the infrastructure professions. We hope that they are joining an engineering culture that is not going to continue to be paid only by the hour. Because if its value extends over the entire lifecycle, the engineers' work is not limited to design. They deserve greater credit for their intellectual property in their models, because they will be useful to make operations and maintenance decisions.
For us the construction phase is a challenge. We started on the design side and then expanded into asset performance. We are number one in some categories of asset reliability, but the potential to link those can be limited by the actual construction process.
How do you see technology helping to surmount this problem of information loss at the construction phase ?
As software developers we have to make sure that it is feasible for the the construction enterprise to start with the design model and reference to it. We have new construction modeling software that is incremental for and not a replacement for the design model. But you have to make sure that this approach pays off during construction.
We are the leader in the world in workface planning with our ConstructSim product. 4D is traditionally construction sequencing and staging. 5D goes beyond that in level of granularity by assigning the actual work for each craft in the field. The difficulty with 5D is that it's an order of magnitude more data and transactions, and it has to fit into the enterprise environment of construction because it needs to relate to materials, layout, and so on. We have solved that problem with better software engineering, but given the nature of construction in different parts of the world, we can't assume that workface planning is equally feasible for every project.
For industrial construction involving steel, piping and concrete we have very mature workface planning software. In this case there is an important benefit for owners which is visibility into the path of construction. In previous times when construction was simpler and occurred at one place, visibility into the path of construction visibility was physical. Nowadays with economically competitive construction requiring off-site fabrication and global sourcing, there is no longer a physical path of construction. Now you need visibility into the virtual path of construction. Owners on the industrial side are finding it worthwhile to provide a cloud service for our workface planning ConstructSim product to make it available to the contractor supply chain. It provides benefits to the contractor in the form of workplace planning and the owner benefits from visibility into the path of construction. So in the case of industrial construction both the owner and the contractor benefit from the software. However, we don't presume that this approach will always provide benefits to the contractor in other construction sectors.
In the UK the Crossrail project has targeted ensuring information flows from design through to operations and maintenance. How has Bentley supported this ?
In the UK they have come quite a way with protocols for information sharing. There is a document Government Soft Landings, which has some good ideas that can work in an existing construction supply chain, but the upskilling needed to take full advantage is daunting. At our offices in London we hosted an academy for Crossrail. They onboard all of their contractors through this academy. For the Crossrail project the goal of the academy is not to train contractors in the tools but to show them a path of information mobility all the way to the Crossrail asset register. This helps them understand the importance of the continuity of information from design through construction to operations. When they know and understand that, since they are already using 4D tools, it is not any harder for them. From the Crossrail project we have first hand experience with the benefits of having a digital design model during operations. We made sure that the model did not get dumbed down during construction. That's been our work over the past 4 or 5 years.
This morning you said geo-coordination plays a key role in reality modeling. Could you elaborate on that ?
Geo-coordination is so key to integrating data from many different sources for reality modeling. Digital engineering models exist for all infrastructure that has been engineered in our lifetime, but nobody ever looks for them because they know they won't be able to find them. Geocoordination can make it possible to find and put in use existing digital engineering models that can add value for asset performance. We see many advantages in geocoordination. People shouldn't assume that geo-coordination will be found only in things created going forward. In Bentley applications in the last 12 years, every time anyone has created an infrastructure asset, it has geocoordination in the form of real world x y z. From the geocoordination you can infer things that are tagged or related to it. Suddenly to be able to navigate with your Hololens the information environment, not only the real world environment, but also 3D design models. And geocoordination is not limited to 3D models. You can find lots of other useful information such as drawings, schematics and data sheets. There is a very high return on that investment.
For the Pope's visit to Philadelphia reality modeling involved capturing structures and real world location. A highly detailed, photo-textured 3D “reality mesh” model was constructed from 28,000 digital photographs, with high geometrical accuracy. Base imagery was provided by Pictometry, high-resolution aerial photography was taken by helicopter, and ground footage was captured by Bentley volunteers – including building facades, street views, and the inside of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. All of this data was geo-coordinated, which means that real world coordinates were essential for integrating the data from Pictometry, aerial photography and ground footage.
One of the big opportunities and challenges is mapping underground utilities and other subsurface structures. Is this something Bentley is interested in ?
Yes, subsurface infrastructure is potentially the biggest and most important reality capture opportunity. While I was in India I spoke to the assembled young engineers at IIT Delhi during the spring break. (In India during the spring break, top young engineers in the region go to the IIT for three days of courses to explore new technologies.) I said to these digital natives that we need you to remain civil engineers. This will be more rewarding in the future because engineers will be paid for the full value of their work. But I added that when you leave civil engineering (like many of them do unfortunately), do it to become an entrepreneur and create the underground equivalent of digital photography. (By the way digital photography works well underwater and a lot of our infrastructure that is at risk is underwater.) But subterranean mapping is the last frontier of remote sensing. It is so important - and the payoff will be huge.
Virtual reality will be important in visualizing underground infrastructure. Devices like the Hololens can bring together virtuality and reality, but it begins with mapping underground infrastructure. It requires advancing sensing technologies for detecting underground infrastructure. In the US and the UK there are now standards for the quality of subsurface data (ASCE and PAS128). Regrettably subsurface engineering hasn't got much attention or much investment. I hope that when we are here again next year that there will have been breakthroughs in subsurface sensing. I can assure you that when that occurs software won't be the holdup.