Reality modelling software opens up opportunities for major infrastructure projects

Reality modelling is opening up a range of new possibilities for how infrastructure projects are delivered and operated. Bentley Systems is at the forefront of this technology and its software is being used on a range of projects worldwide.In September 2015, thousands of people flooded the streets of Philadelphia to get a glimpse of a very special visitor.

Pope Francis visited the American city for the 2015 World Meeting of Families. His visit was a momentous occasion for many.

The event went off without a hitch. Any impartial observer may put it down to good event management, but those in the know knew that part of its success was due to state of the art reality modelling tools.

Event production company ESM Productions was in charge of planning and coordinating the massive multifaceted event, which involved many of the city’s public services, state agencies and even the United States Secret Service. It was classified as a National Security Event by the Department of Homeland Security.

The company engaged Bentley Systems to explore how the Bentley’s reality modelling software could assist in the design and engineering of temporary facilities for the project, while supporting the extreme workflows required.

Bentley employed its ContextCapture software to build a highly detailed, photo-textured 3D “reality mesh” model of Philadelphia from more than 20,000 digital photos.

The base imagery was collected via high-resolution aerial photography and more imagery was captured on the ground, which included building façades, street views and more.

The images helped form a 3D mesh model, which was then populated with maps and designs. This model was used as a means of coordinating the details of the 56,000 temporary structures, 53 kilometres (33 miles) of security barricade perimeter and the effects of road closures to pedestrian traffic.

Bentley’s LumenRT software was used to add motion and additional content to the model, enabling the team to simulate the expected operational experience of the visit, including moving people in crowds and vehicle traffic flow.

In short, the team at Bentley used its cutting-edge software to create an interactive model of Philadelphia, one that can not only be used for events, such as the papal visit, but for infrastructure asset management and optimisation too.

The Pope’s visit to Philadelphia is just one key example of the latest in reality modelling technology in action, and it’s already being explored here in Australia. Brian Middleton, Vice President at Bentley Systems ANZ, talks to Roads & Civil Works Magazine about the convergence of project delivery and operation through Bentley’s reality modelling software, how this technology is beginning to open for a range of possibilities on infrastructure projects and the potential for its application here in Australia.

“Without a doubt, the amount of businesses that are using reality modelling in Australia and around the world is extraordinary,” asserts Mr. Middleton.

“We’re not talking about new technology, but the ability to employ more cost-effective technology to capture the lifecycle of a project.”

He suggests that the concept of reality modelling, in some forms and competing definitions, has existed for decades, citing 3D modelling, CAD drawings and even Building Information Modelling as reality modelling in one form or another.

This concept, he explains, has started to change in the past 18 months as advancements in technology is helping to compile the ways in which infrastructure is designed, built and managed into one space.

ContextCapture and LumenRT are relatively recent additions to Bentley’s comprehensive reality modelling software range, and both played a significant role in the papal visit.

ContextCapture allows the designer to use photographs to quickly create and use highly detailed 3D reality models to provide precise real-world context for infrastructure projects.

LumenRT adds to the reality side of things by giving the designer the ability to animate infrastructure models with elements in motion, such as simulated traffic, moving people, wind-swept plants and even rolling clouds.

“LumenRT gives you the access to the 3D environment but with different options to animate things, which is perfect for stakeholders. That’s where Bentley is moving in the reality modelling space,” he says.

The models created using Bentley’s software can be accessed and shared for use in any CAD or GIS workflow. “We can use the fundamentals of the CAD environment and then mesh it with the data from another environment through our software,” explains Mr. Middleton.

The software employed by Bentley in the papal visit to Philadelphia, for instance, is helping to compile how infrastructure is designed, built and maintained into one cost-effective package.

The model of Philadelphia was used again in the design of Comcast’s new office.

Likewise, Bentley worked on a comprehensive model of Stockholm in Sweden, which will be used for a variety of applications in the future.

Such intricate, detailed and comprehensive models of an entire city have many pros for the design and optimisation of infrastructure. “It can be used for an asset’s entire lifecycle, from proponent, to design to construction to operation to maintenance and end of life,” adds Mr. Middleton.

Like the papal visit, the concept of reality modelling can be used to find better ways of improving traffic flow and movement as a major event takes place. It can used to consider the impacts of population growth, economic growth and even the environment on an infrastructure asset during its preliminary design and ongoing use.

Many of the projects Bentley is working on with clients in Australia exemplify just how far the possibilities of its reality modelling software extend.

Some unique examples include coastal mapping for the City of Onkaparinga in South Australia to help tackle erosion, asset capture for the Ministry of Defence and even creating a large-scale virtual model of Adelaide to a 50-millimetre accuracy.

Mining organisations can use reality modelling for stockpile management and police can use models to improve crowd control. It can be employed to help improve flood zone management systems and even used for planning smart cities.

“There’s a lot of activity going on. There are a number of companies that are applying this technology to projects and many organisations that are using it to create the basis for highway asset management strategies,” says Mr. Middleton.

“Just think of an industry and a particular asset out in the field and the technology is relevant – the applications for it are huge.”

The beauty of Bentley’s reality modelling software is its ease of use and ability to cost-effectively change and adapt designs.

Mr. Middleton exemplifies cut and fill movements on major geological projects such as the Toowoomba Ranges realignments. A model constructed using Bentley’s software can show where excavation can be undertaken, and can also provide alternative designs easily and without needing to build completely separate designs and models.

The software also allows companies to put together a concept strategy when it comes to designing and ultimately constructing an infrastructure asset.

“It enables you to look to certain designs and create different options; different roads, different bridge structures, different road specifications and templates, two lanes, three lanes, and more,” says Mr. Middleton.

Alternative designs for a bridge structure, for instance, can easily be dropped and integrated into the 3D model. Any changes to that structure can also be made immediately.

It not only becomes a cost-effective measure of solving problems during the design and construction process, but also the perfect tool for stakeholder engagement, particularly with the employment of real-time environments using LumenRT. “There’s not really an end to what we can do with it,” he adds.

“The investment in getting the design right outweighs the cost of going into construction and then having to make changes.”

Mr. Middleton says that providing a 3D reality model may even become a requirement in the tender process for infrastructure projects one day. “It would certainly be good for long-term management and help certify it from construction to finish,” he says.

While the concept of reality modelling has gained some traction in the Australian marketplace, Mr. Middleton says that there’s still a way to go before the potential of this kind of technology is fully realised.

“There are various estimates of Australia’s infrastructure funding deficit with IPA and Citibank putting it at $700 billion. The application of these types of techology in delivering and managing infrastructure assets can help to close this gap.”

A major roadblock on the path to Australia embracing the technology, as Mr. Middleton explains, is the reluctance to learn from experiences with the concept around the world.

“If you can adopt what other people have done around the world and adapt it for the Australian market, the impact on the cost to the taxpayers is immense.”

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