Bentley's annual Year In Infrastructure (YII) conference is a great way to get updated on the latest technology developments of the company as well as the diverse range of projects all over the world that are being implemented with its solutions. Not only is the number of industries in which Bentley’s solutions are used growing, the number of countries in which they are being implemented is increasing as well. This makes the YII event more than just a showcase for one technology vendor — it’s also a good measure of the “pulse” of AEC technology implementation in infrastructure projects worldwide.
The YII event this year was held last month in London, and while I did not attend it in person, I was able to watch all of the event recordings online, including the technology updates from Bentley as well as the individual customer presentations of all the projects nominated for its “Going Digital” awards. AECbytes is covering this event in two parts, with this article capturing the key technology updates that were shared by Bentley (Figure 1), and a separate article on the project presentations that will be published soon.
Here is an at-a-glance summary of the key technology updates that were shared by Bentley:
Bentley was the first technology vendor to bring the concept of “digital twins” to AEC (see Digital Twins in AEC: AECbytes White Paper), which it sees as the next phase in the evolution of AEC technology after CAD and BIM. At its 2018 YII event four years ago, it officially launched iTwin as a brand-new cloud platform for creating “infrastructure digital twins.” In subsequent years, it has continued to add extensions to the platform to make it more open, scalable, and collaborative. The three new extensions that have been added this year include:
Figure 2 shows some of these new capabilities as demonstrated by Bentley at the YII event, including the ability to view the engineering data of the digital twin of a bridge (top image), track its real-time performance through IoT sensors that are layered on the bridge (middle image), and carry out remote inspections through its reality capture data (lower image).
While the iTwin platform was developed to be interoperable from the start, supporting open formats like the IFC, it now supports gaming engines as well, allowing immersive and interactive visualization of digital twins in gaming applications such as Unity and Unreal Engine, as well as in real-time visualization applications like Nvidia’s Omniverse. A new Mesh Export service has been developed with 3DFT (3D Fast Transmission) technology, allowing a digital twin from the iTwin platform to “pop up” in the gaming application by referencing it rather than loading it. The model is streamed as you navigate through it, so you do not have to wait for it to load, and it is therefore extremely fast, even for large and complex projects. Since the model is referenced rather than imported, any changes to the model are reflected in its visualization automatically — there is no need to upload a new version.
Bentley demonstrated this new technology by referencing a large and complex model of one of its award-winning projects — the Tuas Water Reclamation Plant in Singapore by Jacobs — into the Unreal Engine gaming application, where the project can be quickly and interactively visualized (Figure 3).
Another major announcement by Bentley at the YII event was the launch of the Bentley Infrastructure Cloud, which brings together three of its key solutions spanning the end-to-end lifecycle of an infrastructure asset: ProjectWise for the design phase; SYNCHRO for the construction phase; and AssetWise for the operation phase. While none of these applications is new, they have been enhanced and engineered to work more closely together, powered by the iTwin platform. It is part of a growing move by Bentley to make its solutions more data-centric, allowing infrastructure data to be unlocked from individual files, made available for actionable insights and analytics, and leveraged for more efficient and effective engineering workflows.
Some of the enhancements to ProjectWise, Bentley’s project management and collaboration solution, in the context of its key role in the new Bentley Infrastructure Cloud include the ability to find and re-use different kinds of data; expansion of the ProjectWise Components Center to include more digital components that can be reused, saving a significant amount of time (Figure 4); new civil design validation capabilities; and a new Drive Simulation tool to experience the drivability of a design and ensure proper sight lines.
There are also significant enhancements to SYNCHRO, the construction scheduling application Bentley had acquired in 2018 and which it had significantly expanded for 4D construction modeling and sequencing, document controls, cost management, and field management. SYNCHRO is increasingly powered by iTwin and its ability to leverage design data is being expanded to include 5D — the cost component — in addition to 4D — the time component — in construction. It can now do model-based quantity take-offs by incorporating model splitting tools that intelligently generate the constructable components, complete with the work breakdown structure and cost codes (Figure 5). This makes the project estimating faster and more accurate.
An important new initiative by Bentley for enabling sustainable design and construction is the integration of its iTwin platform with EC3 (Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator. EC3 is a no-cost, open-source tool that allows benchmarking, assessment, and reductions in embodied carbon, focused on the upfront supply chain emissions of construction materials. It is developed by the non-profit organization, Building Transparency, whose broad mission is to provide the education, resources, and tools — including EC3 — to address embodied carbon’s role in climate change. The integration of EC3 with the iTwin platform will allow the AEC firms that are using Bentley solutions for their infrastructure projects to perform carbon analysis more easily to meet their sustainability goals (Figure 6).
There was a dedicated session at the YII event on research initiatives by Bentley in partnership with universities and research organizations. Some of these initiatives include a collaboration between Bentley and the City University of New York to develop a way-finding application for visually impaired people called Nearabl, which was subsequently spun off to become a commercial business; working with Cambridge University on a digital roads project, Expressway Digital Twins; helping Kaunas University of Technology in Lithuania create a digital twin of their entire campus using the iTwin platform; and collaborating with Dublin City University to make its campus a microcosm of a smart city, drawing upon Dublin’s city initiatives as well as data analytics from the research center, Insight (Figure 7).
And finally, in another dedicated session, Bentley showcased Seequent, a subsurface modeling technology company that it had acquired last year, which is used by geo-professionals in several industries including water, mining and minerals, oil exploration and drilling, and infrastructure. One example showed the use of Sequeent’s software by Cornish Lithium (Figure 8), a UK based mineral exploration, extraction, and development company, focusing on the extraction of lithium — a key element in the ongoing electrification of the energy grid — in geothermal waters in the Cornwall area. Another example showed how Seequent’s technology was being used by a non-profit organization called Ground Water Relief, which provides groundwater expertise and services to humanitarian agencies working to provide access to a safe and sustainable water source in parts of the world where this access is lacking.
The discourse at Bentley has been centered around digital twins for several years now, and it has taken firm root. The era of BIM is well and truly over at Bentley, going by the number of times I heard the term “BIM” mentioned — which was hardly ever. In line with its reinvention as an “infrastructure digital twins” company, all of Bentley’s products are also being rebranded with the “iTwin” label. The clarity and consistency will certainly be appreciated by its customers as well as the industry at large.
As long as there are humans on the planet, there will always be the need for infrastructure. Also, unlike in the past where infrastructure was more or less “invisible” — only the people who were working on it really talked about it — infrastructure is now very much front and center of our public consciousness, with calls for it to be more resilient, sustainable, cost-effective, efficient, and above all, to enable a higher quality of life for all people. From that perspective, Bentley is likely to continue to be relevant and to be confronted with challenges that will help it to grow.
Stay tuned for a dedicated article on the many project presentations by Bentley’s customers at the YII event that will be published shortly.
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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