Bentley produces infrastructure design and build software without equal. No wonder it is embraced by most of the departments of transportation in the U.S., the lion’s share of the ENR Top Design-Build Firms 100, and judging from the crowd at this year’s Year in Infrastructure(YII), any firm that has built anything of scale and substance. How a relatively small, family run software company can provide the software of choice for construction projects that collectively account for trillions of dollars continues to be the most impressive story in CAD.
This year, Bentley Systems is placing such an emphasis on the digital twin concept that we half expect the Bentley brothers, Greg and Keith, to be wearing matching twin costumes. But obviously, because they do not exist for our amusement, they do not. We have to resort to imagining taking a shot every time a digital twin is mentioned and falling over dead before the keynote is over.
Putting it all together, as well as adding the time dimension, is the 4D digital twin, the theme of YII2019. (Image courtesy of Bentley.)
The version of the digital twin discussed at YII was the “4D digital twin.” Leader Greg Bentley refers to how the digital twin, like its biological counterpart, varies with age. A project can be just a green field at first, from which a structure grows and then changes slowly over its life.
Many of this year’s projects have aligned themselves with some elements of the digital twin. We feel the urgency that Bentley be seen as first and foremost with regard to digital twin concepts, tools and technology in AEC.
Bentley has released a new version of its iTwin technology. More on that later. It is just one of all the news items we get, though.
The usually sartorial Greg Bentley, CEO of Bentley Systems, affects casual as headdresses the several thousand attendees, including 133 members of the media, who assembled in Singapore for this year’s Year in Infrastructure.
Greg Bentley, CEO, appears first, dressed more casually than usual in as port coat and no tie.
Digital twin mentions rain upon us. It is part of the event logo, which serves as a constant reminder. On the first day of the conference, 11 press releases are issued. Many of them are about digital twins. Three of them are about a joint venture (between Bentley and Topcon) about helping companies create digital twins. The digital twin prompts many questions in the Q&A session. The general tone of the questions indicates that despite the insistence on their importance and their prevalence at the conference, digital twins are still a matter of curiosity rather than application. Many in the media struggle with how best to explain this latest rendition of the digital twin to their readership.
A Year’s Worth of News
We've got this. Bentley comes out strong for digital twins for AEC at YII in Singapore.
The Bentley Technology Problem
There are 133 members of the media in attendance at YII2019 in Singapore getting an earful of the digital twin. It’s a new record. The first day’s batch of 13 press releases is not a record for a single day at a Bentley conference, but the day is young. There will be more.
Bentley has a technology problem. The company simply has too much of it relative to how much its own customers can absorb. The AEC industry, construction in particular, is far behind the manufacturing sector in adopting technology. While robots assemble cars in factories, construction workers hammer nails outside. Sensing the widening gulf between technology offered and technology applied, the Bentleys have called for a moratorium, temporarily halting technology announcements.
We have to give our customers a chance to catch up, says one Bentley executive while flying home after the event.
Still, with all the acquisitions, product announcements, and so on, that have been building up all year—like water behind a dam—there’s a lot to cover when the spillways release.
The Year in Infrastructure, Bentley’s annual showcase of its customers projects, was again held in Singapore, the city every Asian city aspires to be. Why Singapore, which is halfway around the world from Bentley’s Exton, Pa. headquarters? The city-state is committed to technology. Singapore declared a National Digital Twin Day earlier this year—a lucky coincidence for Bentley’s event all about the digital twin.
Big Tech has taken notice. Microsoft has built a “vertical campus,” as Greg Bentley points out, in this crowded island, where growth is up or down. Matching and raising is Google, with its Google Tower, the tallest building in all of Singapore (if only by 10 meters) and a finalist in this year’s competition (under its original and not-so-catchy name of Tanjong Pagar Centre).
Bentley lavishes resources on YII, and this year the event was its biggest ever. Over 570 projects were in the running, whittled down to a few dozen finalists. The media were there to report on the event, the culmination of which is a formal dinner/awards ceremony where winners are declared—our industry’s closest equivalent to the motion picture industry’s Academy Awards.
China, China, China
A record number (18) of entrants were from China, followed by India with the next biggest number of entrants—not surprising, given both country’s proximity to Singapore. A significant number of Chinese media were on hand and eager to dutifully record their country’s contribution to the world stage of infrastructure. We have found China’s projects presented at YII to be some of the most magnificent in scale. Preeminent among them was the Three Gorges Damn, which was covered in a previous conference. But here are some other notable projects at this year’s YII.
Digital chronology, thanks to a 4D digital twin. See how flooding will affect a construction zone with OpenFlow FLOOD. (Image courtesy of Bentley.)
Think of Bentley’s 4D digital twin as a time machine, its controls a slider control that lets you see a version of your project from the past and into the future—the future based on CAD and other data.
The digital twin concept is hardly new. It has been around for 30-plus years. It is not new for Bentley either.
We first discussed the digital twin in 2016, says Greg.
We are treated to yet more terms by Greg Bentley, for whom plain old “engineering” is insufficient to convey the richness that Bentley tools are able to provide. Last year, we were introduced to constructioneering. This year, we have new additions: inspecitoneering, conceptioneering, and more….
A predetermined flight path makes sure the drone will get enough data for a 3D model to allow for a safe and complete bridge inspection. (Image courtesy of Drone Harmony.)
Reality capture, the concept of making a 3D model of what exists (whether it is a process plant, building or construction site), relies on scanning and/or photography. A 3D scanner mounted on a tripod will provide a gazillion points, each with an X, Y and Z position relative to the scanner. It’s up to software and machine learning to recognize the points as physical objects.
Connect the Dots
Making images from points is as old as seeing constellations from stars in the sky, as images that fit our mythologies or horoscopes. Machine learning means to do one better, grouping points in 3D and matching them against known objects using AI.
We may be giving machine learning too much credit. The interpretation of raw points as objects actually relies on armies of humans who do nothing but “tag” the collection of dots as what it is trying to represent, such as pumps, valves, gauges, and so on.
At YII, we see one 3D model after another, the result of a mashup of digital photos, or photogrammetry. It’s far from a neat result, with a street that looks like it’s been bombed and a refinery that looks like an abandoned dirty mess. Photogrammetry does that.
Aesthetics aside, we have to marvel at the ability to have a real 3D model created from simple point-and-shoot digital cameras and iPhones.
Doing the messy image one better is Bentley’s software that combines optical 360-degree cameras with LiDAR points to get a neat and geometrically accurate model.
We see a bridge around which drones have flown in a prearranged flight path, capturing the entire truss bridge for inspection. It is an effort that would have previously entailed a one-time inspection using cherry pickers on trucks positioned on the bridge deck, an inspector dangling while taking photos below. While the bridge’s deterioration looks worse than it is (again courtesy of photogrammetry), it has replaced an expensive and risky process. Also, the drones generate a model that many more people other than the inspectors can study.
Follow the dots. LEGION, acquired by Bentley, simulates pedestrian traffic, in this case deplaning a passenger aircraft. (Image courtesy of Bentley.)
“They love to see the little dots on the screen,” says Madeline Cox, who managed the Stratford Station design for London’s underground metro system. She is showing a pedestrian simulation in a subway train station, with each moving red dot representing a person leaving the train but running into congestion in front of the escalators and at the turnstiles. The red dots are mesmerizing… and much easier to understand and relate to than congestion zones that show red and orange as unacceptable.