Toward Intelligent Infrastructure
We are living in a world with a rapidly growing population and an urbanization rate that is increasing year over year. According to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), people living in urban areas will increase from 50% worldwide in 2011 to 75% in 2050. Over 2.5 billion people will move to urban areas in the next 40 years. These people need houses, offices to work from, roads to drive on, dikes to protect them from rising sea levels, water, rail and transit to get them to work, power to warm and cool their homes; in other words infrastructure to support their way of living.
Over the last three decades we have seen an increased investment in our digital infrastructure, the way we communicate is definitely different from the way we communicated back in the eighties or nineties of the last century. Cell phones, mobile devices, Facebook and other social media have changed our way of communicating and living.
But how about our physical infrastructure? Most of our current physical infrastructure has its roots in the early or middle part of the last century. Our highways, railroads, water distribution and electrical networks have their origin way back. During these times the urbanization rate was ten times lower than today’s urbanization rate. If we want to keep up with the pace of urbanization, we need to work smarter in designing, constructing and above all operating and maintaining infrastructure.
For most capital investments, owners look at the cost of the investment and take the operational cost for granted. When does a new infrastructure project in your area make the news? First when it is proposed and planned. The second time you hear about it, is when the project goes over budget and the costs of constructing raises through the roof. Very seldom you hear about the operational costs during the lifetime of an asset, while at the same time the costs during operation is quite often a multiple of the cost of engineering and construction. On average, over the lifetime of an asset, design and construction counts for 20% of the costs and operations costs count for 80% of the total cycle costs.
We made great improvements in information modeling over the last 10-15 years. With information modeling we facilitate the creation and integration of design, documentation and analysis in a federated repository for design and construction. This allows us to simulate the asset’s performance and choose the optimum configuration and maximize design objectives. A 3D modeling environment enables interaction with the design process, and ensures consistency and accuracy through the project timeline.
The next step is in creating integrated projects in order to reduce risks and enhance project efficiency. Nearly every infrastructure project consists of distributed teams that require well-managed collaboration of the work in progress. Scalable and controlled work sharing, gathering of dynamic feedback and reuse of engineering information are key success factors in today’s infrastructure projects.
This leads to intelligent infrastructure, utilizing the digital asset and operational platform for ongoing maintenance and operations. A prerequisite for creating intelligent infrastructure is information hands-on between the different phases in the lifecycle instead of information hand-over. It allows owners to more precisely act in case of disasters and incidents, because they know they can trust their information. Even proactive planning can be applied for changes like remodeling or expansion.
Intelligent infrastructure increases the ROI over the lifetime, while at the same time reducing risks during construction and operation. It only requires a few basic principles to get there: information modeling, integrated projects and hands-on information.
In my next column I’ll focus on the how-to of information modeling. Enjoy your summer!