/ Column / Infrastructure Outlook: Plotting Directions for Civil Infrastructure

Infrastructure Outlook: Plotting Directions for Civil Infrastructure

Terry Bennett on February 14, 2015 - in Column

There have been major breakthroughs in the civil infrastructure industry, with reality capture and advancements in 3-D modeling, analytics and software as a service (SaaS) becoming mainstream. This combination allows designers to quickly model “what could be in the context of what is.” They now can plan, design and engineer with real data (e.g., Big Data, GIS, BIM, digital images, laser scans, etc.) in the context of the real world in real time with cloud-based computing.

Demand for infrastructure, from energy to public transport, is rising as the global population expands, and the pressure is on to meet that demand in the right way. Accounting for costs over the asset lifecycle helps future-proof such assets for growth.

Reality Computing

Reality-computing technologies are changing infrastructure planning, design, production and operations/management. Civil infrastructure projects, new or retrofits, are particularly well suited to reality computing due to their size, scope and inherent relationship to the physical world.

High-definition digital cameras help increase data resolution and precision. Drones, other mobile platforms and lower-cost laser scanners help deliver cheaper and more-capable data capture. Such cheaper and higher-resolution data combine with advanced reality-computing software and cloud-based services to model extensively and then visualize, simulate and analyze a host of conditions for retrofits, site conditions for new infrastructure, QA/QC on construction, and conditions of buildings and networks for better asset management.

Connected Infrastructure Boom

With the upcoming explosion of connected devices, a new communication pattern is developing, with the “Internet of Things” (IoT) spreading into the civil infrastructure industry. This includes everything from embedded sensors and cement-based piezoelectric composite sensors to cameras and multi-purpose wireless accelerometers for civil infrastructure monitoring. This is leading to “smart infrastructure” and the hope of predictive analytics.

In the early days of CAD, Autodesk was a disruptor in the “Era of Documentation,” where the problem was simply moving 2-D drawings onto a computer. Disruption today is the “Era of Optimization” with 3-D models to visualize and optimize a design before a physical prototype is built. And the “Era of Connection” is emerging, with real-time connected input against a scale model that enables “what could be in the context of what is” for greater understanding.

Sustainable Infrastructure

The need to understand the short- and long-term impacts of a particular design approach socially, economically and environmentally (the “triple bottom line”) is becoming critical. From future-proofing cities to sustainable infrastructure rating systems such as ENVISION to infrastructure resiliency to dealing with natural and manmade disasters, the demand is outpacing available funding. Building new infrastructure properly from just an engineering perspective no longer is good enough.

Designers and builders now must answer the more important question of whether they’re building the correct infrastructure to best meet community needs. In this era of connection, infrastructure professionals must be active contributors to the triple-bottom-line framework, using technology to deliver maximum sustainable business value.

New tools, such as cloud-based Autodesk InfraWorks 360, are helping planners and designers optimize, prioritize and monitor sustainable design approaches with project workflows that can assess the following:

  • The level of need
  • Implementation strategies and performance measurements
  • Alternative solutions and feasibility studies
  • The amount of funding needed
  • The articulation of value
  • Ongoing monitoring and reporting

The SaaS approach allows for ultimate flexibility on various platform devices by leveraging the power of cloud computing to create infrastructure models ranging from a single project to neighborhood scale to entire city models with rich, highly detailed and accurate 3-D information.

Better Infrastructure Asset Management

Thinking is changing from measuring the lowest lifecycle cost to measuring the highest lifecycle returns. This transition is being helped by ISO5500, the new global standard for Infrastructure Asset Maintenance and Management, and the opening of a U.S.-based chapter of the Institute of Asset Management. As the industry transitions to predictive asset management, owners are looking for a better, more-robust platform and approach to infrastructure lifecycle management and resiliency.

Cloud-based collaboration is fundamentally transforming infrastructure asset management by rapidly importing augmented-reality and reality-capture data to update projects’ condition information as well as create a highly efficient environment to quickly extract specific project workflows for a variety of tasks. A 3-D intelligent record of what exists and its conditions will be the foundation for all future asset-management processes going forward.

Emerging technologies that hold promise in the coming year include tools to augment reality, deliver massive amounts of connected data (IoT) or go from the physical to digital to physical (3-D printing). Given that infrastructure can be massively complex systems that cover miles, time will be needed to fully develop and employ these tools in a consistent, industry-standard workflow.

The world’s infrastructure is in crisis, but we have new levels of modeling, simulation and analysis capabilities to help balance the needs, costs and impacts. Look for continued enhancements that support the BIM workflow, along with continued refinement and democratization of emerging technologies to create more-connected models.

About Terry Bennett

Terry D. Bennett, LS LPF MRICS ENV SP LEED® AP, is the senior industry program manager and chief strategist for civil infrastructure at Autodesk. He is responsible for setting the company’s future vision and strategy for technology serving the planning, surveying, civil engineering and heavy construction industries, as well as cultivating and sustaining the firm’s relationships with strategic industry leaders and associations. Bennett has been a practicing professional, global author and lecturer for almost 30 years on the impact of technology to the infrastructure and urban planning, engineering, and construction industries focusing on sustainable approaches to urban infrastructure development. He currently serves as a Board Member of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design’s Sustainable Infrastructure Advisory Board, is a charter member of the Institute of Sustainable Infrastructure and a member of its economics committee, a council member on the Urban Land Institute’s Public Development and Infrastructure Council, and was a founding editorial board member of Rebuilding America’s Infrastructure Magazine.

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