YII is all about the twins, ’bout the twins, no singles*

Nov 30, 2019 | Hot Topics

(* Massive apologies to Meghan Trainor, on whose All About That Base lyrics it is based. Great song, bad pun.)

Last month’s Year in Infrastructure (YII) in Singapore, hosted by Bentley Systems, lived up to the hype: amazing infrastructure projects, technology galore and digital twins aplenty. It’s a long week; for the jurors, it starts on Sunday when we review the finalists in our categories. Monday is press day, when Bentley makes announcements and hosts meetings. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are sessions (so.many.powerpoints) where finalists present their projects, industry experts discuss issues in AEC, roads, rails, bridges and utility networks, from design through construction to operations … In all, it’s a lot to take in. Here, in no particular order, are my top 10 takeaways:

  1. These awards matter. The juries spend a lot of time over the summer narrowing down from all of the entries to the three finalists and two alternates in each category. Sometimes, it feels like too many words, describing yet another interchange that will change the lives of the community being served by the revamped overpass, or more manufacturing processes and plants, or other infrastructure projects. Then come the finalists’ presentations. The passion that doesn’t come through on the submission form shines in person. These submitters poured their hearts into the project that brought them to Singapore and worked hard in their presentations to convey what makes that project unique. It’s always amazing to watch these projects come to life. But then, on Thursday night is the awards gala. The finalists have no idea who is going to win in their category and the suspense is nerve wracking for many. At this year’s gala, I sat with the CIO of a major EPC and his colleague who was a finalists (in a category I had not judged, luckily). This was the first time Bentley was live webcasting the event, and the team in South Africa was watching …. category after category was announced. Then it was our table’s turn. The young man’s project won! The elation, fist bumps, Skypes … The EPC CIO told me that that trophy would be placed in the South African office, not the home office, in recognition of the winning team’s work. This CIO has been in the industry a long time and it mattered as much to him as if he had won it himself. Enter your project, be a judge, support the finalists — in whatever industry. Totally worth it.
  2. Digital twins are whatever you need them to be. Not being snarky — the exact definition depends on what you want to represent, why you need a digital version, and what you want to do with it. For a lot of Bentley users, a BIM (Building Information Model) is just the starting point; it is used to create the 3D model of a design and facilitated the construction process. A digital twin takes this model (which might be of a bridge or process plant — we’ve moved away from a strict definition of that “B” in BIM) and adds details that make the data asset suitable for simulating maintenance or tuning performance over the life of the building/bridge/plant/built asset. Bentley is working with McKinsey and Co. on a maturity model, but it can be summed up like this: start by defining your asset via the data you have (a 3D model, say, referenced to a location on Earth). Then add relevant data to the 3D model and consider putting it all somewhere (say the cloud) for reference and collaboration. Then, if relevant, work in the time-based elements of your asset: maintenance or revamps, say. Then, for the ambitious, connect sensors to asset where it makes sense, and can help draw important conclusions. Finally, harness all of this for analyses (maintenance or operating parameters, say) that spawn actions. Don’t get hung up on the endgame —McKinsey and Bentley can walk you through this— but do start
  3. Bentley recognizes that digital twins aren’t just CAD. To really represent the the asset, the twin must include 3D models, 2D reference material, lists and schedules, laser scan and other reality capture data that reflects the as-built, perhaps live operating data, whatever it takes to meet the operating objective. Bentley CEO Greg Bentley didn’t quite pivot, but said that “until now, we’ve made software that produces useful deliverables, but that are static and [for traditional] purposes. With digital twins, we want to make the value of those deliverables extend over the life of the asset .” In other words, engineering and design documentation historically tied to the construction of the asset has value for the (far longer) useful life of the asset and needs to be considered in that context. What does that mean?
  4. Lots of new opportunities for contractors and owners who see the benefits. Bentley’s digital twin engine for the process industries is PlantSight, a joint offering with Siemens, that aims to capture 2D process & instrumentation diagrams, chemistry and process tuning, 3D CAD models, laser scans and more into a cohesive set of data (a twin) to manage the plant. The EPCs in the room love the opportunity to create more value and to stretch their involvement in a project beyond handover; the owners are interested in how this twin can help improve operations — whether that’s eking out more product, lowering energy costs, improving safety or minimizing downtime.
  5. One early digital twin, the construction model, is already having a huge impact. Mr. Bentley focused a lot on the 4th dimension in AEC, time. Construction projects have been using a form of the digital twin created specifically to simulate construction processes, constructability and make cost-time tradeoffs. Many projects, even in categories outside construction, are taking advantage of analytics to improve outcomes.
  6. A twin is only useful if it is current, if it matches in all ways that matter, the physical asset. Bentley’s iTwin Services, the company’s platform for managing digital twin data, enables users to manage generations of data, user access and many of the workflows around keeping all of this data in synch, no matter the original source format or originator.
  7. Central to Bentley’s iTwin concept is its focus on openness and interoperability. Last year, Bentley introduced its open source iModel.js library, which is specifically targeted at EPCs, third party developers, standards bodies and others to build an ecosystem of data formats to fully describe a digital twin. Combining Bentley’s iModel.js, iModelHub and iTwin Services, users can accept data from nearly any source, in nearly any format, and combine it. Then the fun begins: who made a change? Why? When? It’s possible to interrogate the twin forward and backwards to understand how a change came to be, adding accountability and traceability as well as collaboration.
  8. But wait, Bentley also thinks we need Project Digital Twins. So far, this post has been about asset digital twins, or performance digital twins; how the asset operates over its life. Well before any project gets to that point, there’s a massive amount of design, simulation, decisions about cost/performance trade-off, construction and fabrication sequencing — Bentley calls this a Project Digital Twin. Here, Bentley and Siemens are working on CALM, Teamcenter for Capital Asset Lifecycle Management which uses Siemens’ Teamcenter to improve capital program decision making. More to come on CALM. Bentley isn’t just teaming with Siemens, though.
  9. With Topcon, Bentley announced the Digital Construction Works joint venture to help construction contractors and others become more digital. DCW is the next step in a partnership that has been promoting the benefits of industrializing construction via what the companies called “Constructioneering Academies” that teach engineering firms and contractors how to improve construction execution and reduce project costs by doing 4D planning, as-built data collection and using other modern workflows within a connected data environment. DCW is made up of longtime Bentley and Topcon employees who will offer services around automation and integration of software and cloud services from Bentley, Topcon and third parties. From Topcon, DCW brings expertise in surveying and site execution; from Bentley, engineering, design, information management and asset maintenance. Why a separate entity? Because it it’s not just about Bentley and Topcon’s solutions; sometimes, another vendor is more suitable and the separation allows DCW to stress that it is agnostic — but with deep expertise.

And, finally, Number 10: What it all means.

While we’re all figuring out what digital twins are, smart owners are already there. Design tools are used in early stages of a project, construction takes months — but assets live for decades. Smart infrastructure owners, especially of commercial assets like process plants, see the 80% of the asset’s lifetime cost as a variable they can affect by smarter management, based on better data. Bentley is positioning itself as the open, interoperable source for creating, managing and analyzing twins — across industries and into the public sector, where the motivations are slightly different but still economic. Bentley is trying to change the conversation, from design to operations and from CAD to analytics — and many things in between. Smart.

Bentley has posted videos from the event here, including the company and guest keynotes. And, if you have time, check out the Awards Ceremony, too. The excitement of the winners, Chris Barron’s song stylings… almost like being there!

Note: Bentley Systems graciously covered some of the expenses associated with my participation in the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post. The title image is of CEO Greg Bentley, taken by Bentley’s ace photographer.