- Project plans
- Project activities
- Legislation and standards
- Industry context
Last edited 12 Jan 2018
How to gain a competitive edge with digital technologies
What does 'digital infrastructure' actually mean? To many it is a digital representation of physical objects and assets, but perhaps less people recognise that the digital model covers the entire project life cycle and the engineering process within it.
Kevin Lea of leading software vendor ALLPLAN highlights the transformative power of BIM and other technologies.
 Challenge your digital infrastructure thinking
Historically, infrastructure projects have relied on 2D design and computer-aided design (CAD) work, and according to a recent NBS report, 78% of respondents still produce 2D digital drawings. So why change? Are engineers comfortable working in this way and scared to try different methods? Are they operating in a mind-set of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it?'
If we consider the number of elements in the environment of any given infrastructure model, we can start to understand the need. A model must include all of the related components, such as the digital terrain model (DTM) plus the features and alignments of complex structures such as bridges.
 The challenges faced by civil engineers
Engineers are faced with many challenges each and every day: low levels of productivity, pressure to work efficiently and cost-effectively, how to apply new tools and technology (or not as the case may be) and guaranteeing resilience of assets and networks.
As explored in ICE's ongoing Digital Transformation knowledge programme, advances in technology offer new ways to meet these challenges, and more efficiently so. However there are hurdles to overcome – one of the first is to understand the real benefits that technology can offer and how to best apply it on projects.
Engineers of today working with infrastructure assets need the ability to model complex geometry accurately. Complex geometry provides additional challenges, especially when, for example, working with reinforced concrete structures. Rebar detailing and pre stress tendons need to be detailed precisely and to code.
Infrastructure assets also rely heavily on alignments, both horizontal and vertical. With the right alignment information we can derive relationships to other objects such as bridges and retaining walls, etc.
Considering the complex nature of these detailed structures, and the engineering processes required through design, construction and operation, there is a clear need to have accurate information that can be accessed quickly and easily. The ability to combine data on alignments and associated structures into a single modelling environment is essential in overcoming some of the challenges listed above. This can only be achieved efficiently with the use of advanced integrated 3D modelling tools.
 Groundbreaking – the best way forward
Virtual reality (VR) is a relatively new tool for all infrastructure sector disciplines to engage with and understand the asset or network environment. It enables designers to visualise their decisions in context, such as for reinforcement positioning, and can also be used to improve site awareness and health and safety training.
Cloud technology is another area that could be considered part of 'the best way forward'. Another recent NBS survey showed that 82% respondents consider the cloud to be the future of the construction industry.
But is this really true? With so many security issues, licencing needs and a risk-averse culture to break, it's likely that some people will stand back. There are always alternative options available that offer new solutions and ways to work collaboratively. The trick is to understand which tools offer the best value in the context of a project and how to engage people to use to realise their full benefits.
This article was originally published here by ICE on 8th Jan 2018. It was written by Kevin Lea, Senior Vice President, ALLPLAN.
 Find out more
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
Featured articles and news
Starting a new built environment degree? We have a wide range of resources aimed at students.
Former railway chief James Blake says trust and control are key to successful infrastructure projects.
Do you know your Rococo from your De Stijl, your Gothic from your Post-modernist?
May outlines a new funding strategy for housing associations and says the 'stigma' of social housing needs to end.
RIBA launches a consultation on a new Plan of Work for Fire Safety.
This article offers some basic rules to follow when writing your next specification.
The iconic Mackintosh Building will definitely be rebuilt, board chairwoman confirms.
The machinery used to fashion stone has changed dramatically - and so have the products.
This type of pile provides support to the building, as well as acting as a heat source and a heat sink.
Why investors are adopting the SDGs and why civil engineering could be crucial for delivering them.
Read about all the winners from the London ceremony of CIAT's 2018 Architectural Technology Awards.