Bentley Gives Birth to Twins
Roopinder Tara posted on October 16, 2018 |
After two years in gestation, Bentley delivers a slew of digital twin applications to the BIM and AE...

Bentley kicks off its annual customer showcase (Year in Infrastructure) with a media day and showers the attendees with news it has been saving all year. This year, we are handed a stack of seven press releases. Most of them had to do with digital twins.

Bentley releases iModel.js at Year in Infrastructure 2018 in London as a cornerstone to its version of the digital twin concept for the AEC and BIM industry. The open source JavaScript library will create immersive connections to infrastructure digital twins. (Image courtesy of Bentley.)
Bentley releases iModel.js at Year in Infrastructure 2018 in London as a cornerstone to its version of the digital twin concept for the AEC and BIM industry. The open source JavaScript library will create immersive connections to infrastructure digital twins. (Image courtesy of Bentley.)

The digital twin concept, where a computer model seeks to represent a physical object in form and function, has been embraced by the other CAD vendors, mostly for mechanical and product design. Bentley, with the help of acquisition and partnership, are the first to brings digital twins to BIM, AEC and infrastructure projects.

“People were wondering what we had been doing the last two years,” says CEO Greg Bentley, as he delivers a series of announcements meant to show how serious Bentley is about catching up to digital twins in the mechanical design sector—and provide leadership in digital twins in the BIM and AEC sector.

It’s easily demonstrable how a mechanical device—such as a bicycle rolling down the road, wheels and pedals turning—can be linked via the Internet to a similarly behaving computer model. To do so with a building is another matter. A building does not move.

Except when it is being built, says Greg Bentley. We have seen how “reality modeling” tools, such as cameras on drones and LiDAR scanners on the ground, can keep up with the construction of a commercial building, growing a mesh-model. It’s grainy and patchy, unlike a smooth, even CAD model, but it is being modeled in near-real time. 

Does that constitute a digital twin? “How is a BIM model not a digital twin?” says another attendee. We try to sort it out after a day of new products and partnership/acquisition announcements that seem to be pointing Bentley towards a future intent on digital twin creation.

Does exact or rough modeling, along with other information (metadata, schematics, digitized floor plans, etc.) constitute a digital twin? Or should a digital twin be able to “feel,” or react and respond to its physical counterpart—and vice versa? 

After much discussion, questions to and by Bentley employees, reading—and rereading the press releases—the answer may be that Bentley seems to be covering digital twin in two stages, the first being a “project” digital twin and the second version, one that is responsive and reactive, coming later, named the “performance” digital twin.

A rundown of the other digital twin-related announcements follows.

Atos

To assist Bentley in creating digital twins of infrastructure projects, Bentley has enlisted Atos. A EUR€12-billion, French-based IT company, Atos—with a hundred thousand employees—has been assisting companies digitally. This includes helping with their “digital transformations,” according to the Bentley press release. Bentley goes on to say that Atos will be flying drones to capture data for modeling existing structures, as well as performing real-time monitoring of construction, performance analysis, remote operation of assets and operational training using VR environments. All of the above now will be presumably accomplished using Bentley software, wherever possible.

Plants Can Have Twins, Too

PlantSight brings together data from multiple 3D models including reality meshes in the one-portal view, allowing rapid access to information that has previously been inaccessible. (Image courtesy of Bentley.)
PlantSight brings together data from multiple 3D models including reality meshes in the one-portal view, allowing rapid access to information that has previously been inaccessible. (Image courtesy of Bentley.)

The collaboration of Siemens and Bentley brings the companies even closer together. Today, Bentley announced that, with Siemens’ help, industrial process plants will have bidirectional associativity and control with a digital twin. This would make it a commercial application of what Bentley is referring to as its “performance” digital twin. The digital twin in this case is an amalgam of the 3D models (of various formats) as well as schematics and PLM systems, using applications from both companies such as COMOS, OpenPlant, MindSphere and Teamcenter. Imagine issuing a command to close a valve on a 3D model and the real valve in the process plant does the same thing. Or vice versa, an operator closes the valve in the plant and the 3D model does the same. 

Bentley calls this vision PlantSight, and it will be marketed as service by both Bentley and Siemens. 

Agency9

To find a company that could make digital city twins, Bentley went to Stockholm to find Agency9, which has digitized “half of Sweden’s major metropolitan area.” This may mean just one city, as Sweden only has two cities with more than a half million people (Stockholm and Gothenburg). Agency9 had been using Bentley’s Context Capture and going beyond, adding the “digital context for visualizing urban infrastructure assets represented in GIS data, terrain surveys, and BIM models.” This is what our customers want, says Bentley. Bentley will now attempt to take Agency9 from Nordic cities to the rest of the world’s metro areas, most of which have not been 3D modeled. 

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed—not that we should we expect that from a private company, as Bentley remains.

Proposal for a new quarter in an unspecified city shown as example by Agency9, possibly in the Nordics. (Image courtesy of Bentley.)
Proposal for a new quarter in an unspecified city shown as example by Agency9, possibly in the Nordics. (Image courtesy of Bentley.)

iTwin Services

By early 2019, Bentley aims to have iTwin Services ready for the creation of project digital twins. Project digital twins is Bentley terminology for customers that are using their ProjectWiseCONNECT Edition for creating and maintaining iModels, who will be able to do this transparently, according to company press release. iTwin Services combines iModelHub, reality modeling and web-enabling software technologies within Bentley’s Connected Data Environment (CDE).

Adding Performance

Having a digital twin that mirrors a building during construction represents what Bentley calls the project digital twin. Having the digital twin receive and react to information from the building in use makes for a “performance digital twin.”

To help developers tie into the performance digital twin using the Bentley system, they can use iModel.js, a JavaScript library also just introduced at YII2018, which should enable seeing an immersive digital twin, as in a virtual, augmented or mixed reality world.

A set of open-source technologies, including SQLite, Node.js, NPM, WebGL, Electron, Docker, Kubernetes, as well as HTML5 and CSS, iModel.js was created to so that developers could create applications around iModel to “tap the vast potential of infrastructure digital twin,” says CTO Keith Bentley.

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