Bentley’s annual Year in Infrastructure (YII) conference continues to be held virtually, and this year’s event, which was held last week, was focused entirely on the projects that won Bentley’s “Going Digital” awards. As Bentley’s product lineup continues to expand and diversify to include more infrastructure disciplines, so do the award categories — there were 19 this year. While the event did not feature “product updates” as such, there were a few tidbits here and there that I found noteworthy. An overview of these and some of the award-winning projects from all over the world — including the US, UK, Sweden, China, Singapore, Russia, Qatar, and India — is captured in this article.
As with previous years, digital twins was the main focus of the event, and Bentley now sees itself as the “Digital Twins for Infrastructure” technology vendor. In most of the discourse, both from Bentley as well as in the project presentations by its customers, the technological deliverable was always a digital twin rather than a BIM model — in fact, BIM was rarely mentioned. It is an encouraging sign of the recognition that the end game of AEC technology is not a static BIM model but a dynamic digital twin that can be used through the lifecycle of the building or infrastructure asset for operation and maintenance.
That said, digital twin technology is not without its share of complications, and one of the clearest explanations of this that I have heard so far came from Keith Bentley at the YII 2021 event: Not only does a digital twin have to include the 3D model of the physical object it is twinning and sensors that capture real world data so that it is in sync with the physical object, it also needs to be able to allow the many what-if analyses we need to do in engineering to plan for what might happen to the object in the future. In other words, the digital twin has to keep track of what's happened, what's currently there, and what's going to happen in the future or may happen in the future. And because the future is non-linear, many permutations are possible, which makes digital twin technology a difficult challenge.
That said, we have to start somewhere, and while most of the projects that were showcased at the YII event were at different stages of their digital twin journey, they were all using Bentley’s iTwin platform, including iTwin.js, iTwin Design Insights, iTwin Design Review, and iTwin Design Validation. Other popular applications that were being used across the board were ContextCapture and Orbit 3DM for reality modeling, Synchro for construction scheduling, and ProjectWise for collaboration and project management. Then there are the discipline-specific modeling applications including OpenBridge Designer, OpenBridge Modeler, OpenBuildings, and OpenRoads Designer; RAM and STAAD for structural analysis; and a whole host of specialty applications for geotechnical engineering, hydraulics, industrial plants, power generation (Figure 1), utilities and communication networks, etc.
Let’s move on to look at some of the award-winning projects in the broad categories of Digital Cities, Infrastructure, and Buildings.
In Singapore, which is already one of the most advanced countries in the world for AEC technology implementation in its buildings and infrastructure, the digitalization now encompasses the entire country. To ensure the effective use of the country’s limited land resources, the Singapore Land Authority has created a detailed reality mesh model of the whole of Singapore (Figure 2). Using ContextCapture, they processed over high-resolution 160,000 images into the mesh, which has an accuracy of 0.1-meter. The application allowed them to manually edit the mesh, ensuring that uniquely shaped buildings were accurately represented. They also used Orbit 3DM to incorporate over 24 terabytes of data covering all the public roads in Singapore. This detailed mesh model will help to support new creative initiatives and sustainable infrastructure projects nationwide.
Situated in the eastern part of Ezhou, Hubei, China, the Ezhou Huahu Airport is a new international airport and aviation logistics port, as well as Asia’s first professional cargo airport. The project covers 11.89 square kilometers and had complex geological challenges, requiring the integration of many process systems. The size and scope of the project was so vast — it is a multimodal transport project, involving railway, waterway, highway and airway with over 100 companies involved — that it was placed in the “Digital Cities” category of the “Going Digital” Awards (Figure 3). With no existing civil aviation BIM standards and 25 million model components, the project team needed a digital platform capable of supporting the tremendous amount of data and manage the coordination of such a large team. They used Bentley’s BIM applications to develop a 3D airport model; ProjectWise to provide an open, connected data environment for multidiscipline coordination; and the iTwin platform to create a digital twin that will be used to operate the airport more efficiently throughout its lifecycle.
An infrastructure project in the US that serves as a good model of how the use of software can streamline the design and construction process is a roadways project in Elk River, Minnesota (Figure 4). It involved converting four traffic intersections into interchanges for a freeway system, relocating utilities, and designing roadway, drainage, and bridge elements. The firm, WSB, that was hired for the project, was a long-time user of Bentley solutions, and they used all of Bentley’s roadway solutions for the design, ContextCapture for the reality modeling, the iTwin suite for coordination and clash detection, and Synchro for 4D construction scheduling. In addition to substantial time and cost savings on this complex project, what was especially significant was the decision by WSB and the Minnesota Department of Transportation not to use 2D documentation at all. The thinking was that if they don't need drawings, they could not only save hours creating them, but also reduce the number of errors interpreting them. The project was done entirely in 3D, and with the addition of the 4D scheduling, the Minnesota Department of Transportation ended up with a 4D model that they could use over time.
In the domain of railways, there were two high-speed rail projects that stood out in their technology implementation. One was the East Link project, a 28-kilometer, double-track railway in Stockholm, Sweden (Figure 5), which began over 6 years ago and included 30 disciplines that used over 23 software applications. The AFRY and Tyréns Consortium that was executing the project had planned to conduct a traditional BIM review for design coordination, but once COVID hit, they were forced to think differently. They selected Bentley's iTwin platform to enable a more streamlined, remote design review process. They were able to combine all the multi-disciplinary data through the iTwin Design Review application and coordinate all of the disparate teams that were involved.
In contrast, the Xi'an-Shiyan high-speed railway project in China used BIM — in particular, Bentley BIM — from the get-go. This is a 256-kilometer railway intended to strengthen the connection between city clusters in the middle reaches of the Yangtze River, promoting poverty alleviation and rural revitalization (Figure 6). China Railway First Survey and Design Institute are the designers and faced a large number of technical, coordination, and geological challenges, compounded by a tight schedule. They wanted to be the first railway project to adopt and promote full lifecycle BIM, and they were looking for integrated modeling applications in an open, connected data environment. They found this in ProjectWise and used it to establish a collaborative platform to share and manage the humongous amount of data and models coming from the 19 different disciplines involved in the project. They also used many other Bentley applications including ContextCapture, iTwin.js, LumenRT, MicroStation, OpenBridge Modeler, OpenBuildings, OpenPlant, OpenRail Designer, OpenRoads Designer, OpenUtilities, PLAXIS, ProStructures, and Synchro 4D.
Other compelling infrastructure projects presented at the YII event included the replacement of East 138 Street Bridge, located in a heavily congested area in the heart of New York City, for which 4D model simulations were used not only for construction scheduling but also construction staging to keep all the stakeholders informed and the bridge functional during the repairs (Figure 7); the SeaTac Airport International Arrivals Facility project in Seattle, Washington, in which a 3-million-pound 320-foot-long bridge center span was remotely assembled and installed while the planes were still taking off and landing (Figure 8); the Transpennine Route Upgrade (TRU), a GBP multibillion railway enhancement program for the routes between Manchester, Leeds, and York in the UK, which used iTwin to bring together data from 60 separate systems and create a route-wide digital twin (Figure 9); the rehabilitation of the historic 140 year old Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which used several Bentley applications for reality capture, modeling, and asset management, including ContextCapture, iTwin applications, and AssetWise (Figure 10); and the construction of Khatan Group of Villages Water Supply Scheme, in Uttar Pradesh, India, where, in addition to generating close to 900 BIM models for 200 different structures, the Larsen & Toubro project team used Bentley's WaterGEMS software to help determine the most economical design and planning for 3,500 kilometers of new network piping (Figure 11).
While Bentley now has a lot more applications for many different types of infrastructure, its flagship building design and engineering products are still very much in use. A great example that was featured at the YII 2021 event was The Pavilion at Penn Medicine, a 16-story, state-of-the art hospital with a subterranean parking garage and a 1.25-million-square-foot high-rise building with four pedestrian sky bridges that is located in the University of Pennsylvania’s campus in West Philadelphia (Figure 12). It is the largest capital project undertaken by the hospital system to date and had its fair share of structural challenges including more than 16,000 tons of steel and different column grids for the garage, public space, patient floors, emergency department and loading dock. HDR provided structural design services for the project, and they used Bentley's RAM structural modeling application to create an integrated project model to design and analyze the complex steel and concrete connections and supports on a short timeline while accommodating a large project team. This single-model approach optimized coordination, reduced errors, and minimized risks while also saving time and money.
Another example in the Buildings category was a high-tech, multifunctional, 110,000 square meter medical complex being developed in Yukki, St. Petersburg (Figure 13), to improve the quality, diversity, and accessibility of medical care to residents throughout Russia, with an estimate of 700,000 visitors per year. The large-scale project presented technical and coordination challenges, compounded by a short three-year timeline. The developer, Volgogradnefteproekt, wanted to streamline workflows and collaboration among the contractor, designer, and client, and integrate scheduling, facility design, and construction management. They used OpenBuildings and ProStructures to generate a 3D model and construction documentation for the entire facility; ProjectWise to manage all models and approval processes; ContextCapture for reality modeling of the site; and Synchro for 4D simulation and construction scheduling. Above all, they used iTwin Services as the central tool for monitoring the work process, documentation development, construction, financial flows, and the interaction between the employees at the site and employees in the office. It enabled parallel design and construction and culminated in a digital asset that will be used for the continued operation of the facility.
And finally, there was the spectacular Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, that will host the FIFA World Cup in 2022 in Qatar (Figure 14). After the event, it will be transformed into a mixed-leisure facility that is integrated into the city infrastructure, promoting social, environmental, and economic development. Arab Engineering Bureau was tasked with the schematic design and construction, facing a short project timeline. They needed a dynamic digital solution to evaluate pedestrian flows and ensure safe and optimal movement throughout the stadium. They used Bentley’s LEGION to perform dynamic modeling and real-time pedestrian simulation to evaluate the area and facility requirements for ingress, egress, halftime, and emergency scenarios. The software optimized the design in coordination with architects and planners to ensure all people could safely leave the precinct within 90 minutes after an event, and the seating area within eight minutes in an emergency evacuation scenario.
In Bentley’s 2021 Year in Infrastructure event, the spotlight was entirely on a celebration of their customers’ achievements and successes. It was a fascinating opportunity to see infrastructure projects using cutting-edge technology from all parts of the world. As countries continue to invest in upgrading their infrastructure to improve living conditions for their people (the infrastructure bill just passed in the US!), we should see more infrastructure being built and also more demand for software that helps in building better quality infrastructure more efficiently and cost-effectively. Technology often gets a “bad rap,” but at least in the AEC domain, it can only do good.
It should be noted that there were many more projects presented at the YII event than the few that were highlighted in this article. There were projects for water, wastewater, energy, power, utilities, communications … all absolutely essential to the infrastructure needs of society. The entire list is at: https://yii.bentley.com/en/winners.
Kudos to Bentley for developing software for so many fields that build so much of what we use every day to live.
Lachmi Khemlani is founder and editor of AECbytes. She has a Ph.D. in Architecture from UC Berkeley, specializing in intelligent building modeling, and consults and writes on AEC technology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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