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Bentley Systems has forged several partnerships that make it easier to share realistic construction simulations with a broader audience. This goal is to help drive the adoption of digital twins across the construction industry.

Most recently, Bentley, which has been a leader on the technical side of modeling infrastructure, extended its digital twins platform to support the Nvidia Omniverse ecosystem. This builds on other recent partnerships with Microsoft to enhance support for the Azure Digital Twins Platform and extended reality tools. Integrations into these platforms should make it easier to share realistic models across more stakeholders, including decision-makers, engineers, contractors, and citizens affected by new projects.

These moves could also help streamline the design and rollout of a $1.9-trillion US infrastructure overhaul proposed by the Biden administration. The Bentley software is, for example, part of the State of Minnesota’s plans to save over $4 million a year using Bentley’s tools to improve the inspection and documentation of over 20,000 bridges. The recent Bentley partnerships with Microsoft and Nvidia should extend these capabilities more cheaply across more participants.

The Nvidia partnership will provide a graphics pipeline for AI-enhanced real-time visualization and simulation of infrastructure digital twins. Realistic simulations have typically required high-power workstations. Nvidia Omniverse can do the heavy lifting in the cloud, which could extend the ability to view engineering-grade, millimeter-accurate renderings on various devices in the office, in the field, or in the homes of people affected by a project.

Catching up on infrastructure

“Construction is one of the last industries to digitalize its workflows,” Rich Humphrey, Bentley’s vice president for construction, told VentureBeat. One McKinsey report on the status of “Digital America” dryly quipped that construction was ahead of only hunting and agriculture on the path to digital transformation. The adoption of digital twins could make it easier to capture information into digital models that can be shared across different kinds of participants in a project lifecycle for documentation, simulation, analysis, and visualization.

Today, most projects are managed using PDF documents or line drawings that are converted into a confused mixture of forms across the construction and maintenance lifecycle. One recent Dodge Data report found that only 34% of civil infrastructure construction firms and 57% of vertical building construction firms were using model-based workflows.

“It is significant that civil is behind, given the impending infrastructure spending bill in the U.S.,” Humphrey said.

Other countries are far more advanced. In Finland, the City of Helsinki has been working on a coherent digital model for city planning for almost 35 years. Meanwhile, the UK has recently established standards for building information modeling (BIM) in infrastructure projects. The differences in processes may be one factor in why U.S. infrastructure costs are often triple what they are in other countries. Notably, U.S. construction and engineering executives recently launched a partnership to adopt UK BIM standards to the U.S.

Civil projects are marked by large scale. They need to deal with existing conditions, fewer subcontractors, and a process often defined by moving lots of materials. Think “earthwork,” “concrete,” or “asphalt.” Furthermore, most agencies within the U.S. Department of Transportation do not provide a 3D model to the contractors when procuring construction services. The contract documents are still in 2D paper and PDF plan sets that do not enable digital model-based workflows.

Shifting past 5D

The renewed infrastructure push in the U.S. could drive the adoption of modeling and simulation tools. Bentley has been focusing on extending the dimensionality of these modeling tools from the traditional 3D capabilities of CAD to support a fourth dimension of time and a fifth dimension of cost. More dimensions in a model allow project managers to make it easier to identify scheduling conflicts, such as how a crane might block the movement of heavy vehicles, which could further impact other aspects of the schedules.

Humphrey believes the next phase of this technology is to go from static BIM models to live digital twins that connect the 4D/5D models to real-time data. Digital twins are automatically updated with data from IoT devices, drones, and mobile apps to better adapt to and plan around unexpected developments that affect cost, schedule, and quality. More data can also enable project teams to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to provide further insights and transform workflows.

Bentley has been building a path for companies to grow from using 2D blueprints today toward adopting 4D/5D digital twins as their processes improve.

“These platforms will reduce barriers that construction firms have when they leverage a solution that can be used on all projects, independent of whether they will deploy BIM or digital twin processes on a job,” Humphrey said.

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