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How Converging of Digital Engineering Technologies Is Enabling Smarter Project Delivery

By Ashley Trinder

In a technology-driven world we expect information to be readily accessible, reliable, and easy to understand. We are increasingly focused on the currency of data and on developing technologies that meet these expectations. Industry is also favouring combined technologies that manage data and produce innovative solutions – a convergence of both information and technology.

The idea that digital engineering technologies are converging is nothing new but the way in which industry software and technologies are coming together is revolutionising every stage of project delivery.

Technology Convergence: GIS & BIM

 

The use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) technology in conjunction with digital engineering/ Building Information Modelling (BIM) has provided significant advantages during construction staging and project planning.  GIS involves the storage of spatial information that is linked to a database and has traditionally been concerned with 2D modelling. Meanwhile, BIM/digital engineering enables visualisation of data in the form of 3D models. The convergence of these two technologies and the interchange of data between them has facilitated the move from a limited 2D system of GIS data management to visually rich and integrated 3D representations of spatial data. With the addition of time schedule information from project management software, components can then be modelled in 4D.

Digital engineering

GIS and design modelling technologies has successfully been used together in the development of traffic management strategies and temporary access needs for large-scale projects such as the Woolgoolga to Ballina Pacific Highway (W2B) upgrades, which required a large volume of data and layered modelling. The project utilised detailed models and colour coding to assist with visualising complex information and to efficiently conduct quality checks on the data. Using the technology together provided greater insight into the project than anything that could have been achieved individually, not just at the planning stage but through the entire project lifecycle to date. 

Woolgoolga to Ballina Pacific Highway

Benefits

GIS and digital engineering technologies offer significant advantages over traditional methodologies. One of the key factors supporting the use of this type of combined technology is the speed with which data can be analysed. For example, the project team for the Melbourne – Brisbane Inland Rail calculated that it would take some 300 hours to manually count out the number of bridge crossings across a potential alignment while GIS allowed it to be completed in less than a third of that time. In addition to speed, the process allows for a more in-depth level of review and greater quality assurance as multiple people and project teams can access the data at any one time. Design modelling also enables risks to be significantly mitigated and design to be continually improved upon, helping to minimise overall project costs. 

In addition to this, the layered nature of the model helps clients to create a comprehensive knowledge base of assets and infrastructure for the purposes of future planning and design, as well as for whole-of-life maintenance. From a stakeholder management perspective, it also allows assists with the optioneering process and increases understanding of the various implications and issues contained in each design.

Digital Engineering in Practice

Digital engineering is now a preferred and essential tool for many key infrastructure projects. W2B, for example, is long and linear in nature, stretching over 155km. Without GIS and digital engineering it would be almost impossible to manage such complex volumes of data and to arrange it in an easy-to-understand format. GIS and digital engineering have played an important role in this project because of the way the horizontal procurement process is being executed and because of the project’s KPIs. For example the project team has KPIs relating to clearing which would have been impossible to track and monitor without using GIS. The delivery model and horizontal procurement strategy also result in a number of overlapping contracts; GIS allows these elements to be tracked more accurately in real time.

Digital engineering

A Focus on Mobile Devices

The convergence trend looks set to continue, with an increasing focus on technologies that are compatible with mobile devices. Efforts are already underway to integrate GIS, CADD, PC map (SiteMap) and NavisWorks software with mobile technologies and tablets, leveraging the knowledge acquired through projects like W2B which uses combined technologies to allow project team members to share the same data.