Earlier in November, I was fortunate enough to attend Bentley Systems’ Be Inspired event in Amsterdam, where Bentley showcases the customer finalists in what could be termed “extreme infrastructure” –plants, buildings, roads, construction, utilities– competing for Be Inspired awards. Many of the projects were jaw-dropping because of their complexity, size, difficulty or number of stakeholders; selecting winners cannot have been an easy task for the juries. [See Bentley’s website for a complete list of winners.] More about that below.

Be Inspired actually began a day early for media and analysts as Bentley staffers hosted a briefing to go over the announcements being made in conjunction with the event: two acquisitions and five product-related. CEO Greg Bentley, SVP Software Bhupinder Singh and a large cast of players presented each of these announcements in the context of Bentley’s overall strategy. I can’t begin to do justice to their presentation but do want to highlight two major themes:

• Further focus on laser scanning and point clouds with the acquisition of Pointools, a UK-based provider of hardware-neutral point cloud software technology. Bentley says that it plans to “integrate point cloud processing in innovative ways throughout its product portfolio” by making point clouds a “fundamental data type, [that] can usefully serve the function of an “as-operated” 3D model for every infrastructure asset.” That’s big — many owners are moving away from trying to keep CAD models of their operating facilities up to date and are considering using scanners as part of the design and planning of large projects. Managing, processing and editing point cloud data and then making it more readily available by streaming, on-demand, a desired subset of the cloud makes LIDAR a practical alternative for even more projects. An important note: Pointools’ Vortex plugin will continue to be made available to third parties such as Autodesk, Google SketchUp, and McNeel’s Rhino.

• Information that is accessible from anywhere (assuming you have the necessary access rights) is becoming more of a reality. Bentley showed off its Bentley Navigator and ProjectWise Explorer iPad apps that allow interaction with design and other types of data in the field; a transmittal service offered via the Microsoft Azure platform; and integration with Bluebeam and Adobe to allow PDF authors to embed Bentley’s i-models into PDFs for collaboration, viewing and mark-up. The idea that a project planner can wander to the job sit, iPad in hand, call up drawings, specs and other documents, redline areas for discussion and transmit them back to the project database in ProjectWise is very attractive. I am an Apple fangirl and appreciate the availability of Bentley’s apps on the iPad platform, but Bentley’s Mr. Singh did tell me that they are working on apps for the Windows 7 and Android platforms as well.

The company made lots of other announcements as well, but the highlights for me were the project presentations by the 57 finalist teams, chosen from among 270 submitting organizations from 42 countries. All of the presentations I attended were terrific, but two stand out: CDM’s revamp of the city of Galveston’s (TX) Main Wastewater Treatment Plant and Qatar Petroleum, which created intelligent as-built models of some of its offshore assets. CDM’s job was to fix the Galveston wastewater plant after hurricane Ike devastated the Gulf coast. Galveston is located on a barrier island off the Texas Gulf coast; hurricane Ike’s extended storm surge caused a major portion of the plant, including the 10 million gallons/day wastewater treatment tank, to fail. The CDM team created a complex plan to work around the parts of the plant that were still functioning — can’t leave a city of 300,000 without working sewage treatment — and rebuilt the plant in less than a year. CDM said that they were able to explore more design alternatives and work in 3D/4D (using time as the fourth dimension) to fully review their concepts.

Qatar Petroleum’s project was completely different, but no less challenging. Like many asset owners, they found themselves with out-of-date drawings, a mix of hard and soft copies, inconsistencies and duplications; a real mess if something were to go wrong in one of the facilities and a contributor to higher project costs, possible lost production, and flawed decision-making even if there were no imminent danger. So they decided to use laser scanning to create intelligent 3D CAD models. Sounds simple enough, right? No. These facilities were offshore, complicating access. Temperature and humidity affected scanning equipment, which had to be sent to the UK for frequent recalibration. Inconsistent tagging meant that they had to come up with a new scheme. Ultimately, they captured 18,000 panoramic images and 4,200 laser scans for 3 platforms and 1 island; created 1,000 intelligent P&IDs; created 4 AutoPLANT model packages and extracted over 3,000 isometrics. When asked if it was worth it, the team was unequivocal: yes. The single, rich source of data will shorten maintenance and upgrade projects, improve operations, safety and training, and enable better decision-making. They’re already working out how to update data for other facilities.

Be Inspired isn’t the typical user event. The vendor content is kept to a minimum and the focus is squarely on user projects. But that doesn’t mean that there’s not plenty of interaction; CEO Greg Bentley has minute details about how customers are utilizing the company’s software (more on his “Utilization Index” in a future blog post) and the company’s developers and product managers were in each session, noting how their solutions were being used and where there might be room for improvement. Even better, during “roundtable breakouts” while the judges were collating their final votes, Bentley was actively seeking customer input on everything from how a cloud offering should work to asset management and BIM simulation. Bentley (the company) walks its talk: Mr. Bentley said that “Information modeling might be what we do, but information mobility is why we do it, for the context of our projects includes site conditions, weather, terrain, and continuity in design, and point clouds.” Bentley Systems is clearly working to stretch the boundaries of the technology available to practitioners of “extreme infrastructure”.

Note: Bentley Systems graciously covered expenses and registration for the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post.