Bentley's Year in Infrastructure 2017 Conference AECbytes Newsletter #90 (November 9, 2017)
This article captures the highlights of Bentley’s annual Year in Infrastructure (YII) conference that was held a few weeks ago in Singapore. As always, Bentley uses this event as a “State of the Union” of sorts for the company and its products, showcasing its achievements, milestones, acquisitions, and product updates. It also provides some insights into its future technology roadmap, including product ideas it is working on and the broader vision underlying them. As such, it is an excellent way to get up to speed on what one of leading AEC technology vendors has to offer the industry, both in terms of what it currently has as well as what is coming up.
In addition to the updates from Bentley, the event also provides the opportunity for Bentley users all over the world to present the projects that they have implemented using Bentley solutions. In fact, more time at the conference is devoted to these project presentations for the Be Inspired Awards than to Bentley’s own updates, giving attendees in different infrastructure disciplines the opportunity to learn about how Bentley solutions are being used to execute projects in their specific discipline. Collectively, they showcase a wide range of infrastructure projects, ranging from individual buildings all the way to city-wide planning and transportation, and across all stages of the project lifecycles, from initial planning through to operation and maintenance.
Let’s start by looking at the main technology updates from Bentley that are in the “available now” category.
Bentley has now completed the rollout of the CONNECT edition across all of its applications (Figure 1), a process that began with the release of its core platform applications—ProjectWise, MicroStation, and Navigator—in 2015, followed by many more of its design, analytical, construction, and reality modeling applications last year, and finally, the remaining applications in its portfolio in time for this year’s YII event. As I highlighted in my recent review of its main BIM application, AECOsim Building Designer, the CONNECT edition enables seamless, translation-free, “intra-operability” between Bentley’s complete portfolio of design, analytical, and construction modeling applications across all of the many industries it serves, enabled by their common DGN file format and data connectivity through the cloud.
Bentley continues to add to its already extensive portfolio of infrastructure solutions with a new OpenRail solution for taking a rail project from planning through performance. Similar to the existing OpenRoads and OpenBridge solutions for road and bridge design respectively, the new solution includes both OpenRail ConceptStation for conceptual design, allowing multiple design alternatives to be explored along with their financial implications (Figure 2), and OpenRail Designer, for the detailed civil design of the track (Figure 3). The seamless intra-operability with other Bentley products enables AECOsim Building Designer to be used for the detailed design of structures such as stations within the project (Figure 4), ProjectWise for project management, Navigator for design review and coordination, ConstructSim for construction, and AssetWise for operations. Also, the CONNECT editions of all these infrastructure solutions allow reality models from Bentley’s ContextCapture to be brought in to create the digital context for infrastructure projects, which can be seen in both Figures 2 and 4 .
With regard to ContextCapture itself, enhancements include a new cloud processing service that can create 3D models of existing conditions from photos that are uploaded (Figure 5); an easy-to-use reality modeling app for quickly creating and displaying 3D models from photos taken with a phone or tablet; and a new ProjectWise ContextShare service for storing and streaming the large amounts of reality modeling data used in engineering and geospatial projects. Also, LumenRT, Bentley’s real-time animation and visualization application for infrastructure design, now supports VR devices such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive for immersive 3D exploration and navigation, can output higher resolution images and Ultra HD videos, and has the ability to create 360 degree panoramic views. Also, a new LumenRT Designer application, with a subset of LumenRT’s features, is available as a no-cost companion install for many Bentley design applications, enabling their users to take advantage of its real-time visualization capabilities.
While Bentley was already using Microsoft’s Azure cloud services to provide the data connectivity for the CONNECT editions of its solutions, it has expanded its use of Azure to provide new “365 Services” in ProjectWise that integrate with Microsoft Office 365, streamlining workflows between engineering work processes and enterprise productivity tools. Azure-based cloud services are also being used to expand the core project management and collaboration capabilities of ProjectWise to include features such as creating, sending, and receiving transmittals, submittals, and RFIs; submitting, managing, and resolving issues; collecting field data with configurable forms; providing insight into project progress though project performance dashboards (Figure 6); quick search though project data; and construction management functionality such as contract, cost, change, and risk management.
Other key updates that were shared at YII 2017 include a partnership between Bentley and Siemens that links the “product” model of a facility created using Bentley design software and its “production” model created using ContextCapture with the IoT-enabled components in the facility via MindSphere, Siemens’ cloud-based, Internet of Things operating system, to create a “performance” model for managing its operation and maintenance much more effectively and efficiently; continuing the partnership with Topcon to integrate its positioning capabilities with Bentley’s modeling software for automated surveying and improved constructibility; and a new offering called ProcureWare for procurement management—from supplier selection and pre-qualification through online bidding, analysis, award, and contract management—based on Bentley’s acquisition of eBid Systems earlier this year (Figure 7). In addition, there were numerous updates demonstrated for specific products across multiple industries including OpenUtilities, OpenPlant, WaterGEMS, SewerGEMS, OpenBridge, Bentley Substation, AssetWise, SACS, and ProStructures (Figure 8).
And finally, an update that is very relevant to a recent article on flood forecasting technology that I wrote in the aftermath of the devastating hurricanes, Harvey, Irma, and Maria a few months ago, is a planned acquisition by Bentley of ACTION Modulers’ water modeling software business based near Lisbon, Portugal. The company, which maintains connections to the University of Lisbon’s School of Engineering, specializes in applying numerical modeling tools to complex water situations including flooding from overflowing drainage systems, environmental impacts of pollutants distributed by waterflow, and early flood warning systems (Figure 9). With a solid company like Bentley behind it, ACTION Modulers’ software can hopefully be developed much further and make flood forecasting technology a reality.
iModel 2.0 Platform
It has been several years since Bentley introduced its i-model format to facilitate open, easy, secure, and data-rich exchange of building models between applications—essentially, as an alternative to the IFC format for interoperability (although Bentley does support the IFC format as well). The i-model was conceived as a “container for AECO information” and as I pointed out in my recent review of AECOsim Building Designer, Bentley provides the option to publish an i-model not only from all of its own applications but also has free plug-ins for some popular third-party applications such as SketchUp and Revit to create i-models from them. Not only is an i-model information-rich, it also has significant compression capability without any loss of fidelity—for example, it can compress Revit models to as much as 20% of their original size.
Bentley is now upgrading its i-model concept to what it calls the iModel 2.0 Platform, which essentially factors in the growing cloud connectivity and services in our technological world today. In addition to changing the name from “i-model” to “iModel,” it would improve upon the “pre-cloud” i-model technology in several ways: it would be built from the ground up to manage change, storing multiple versions of the model and allowing them to be compared; its underlying structure would be a relational database, connecting all the different drawings, models, specifications, etc. of the project in a meaningful way; it would be able to store unlimited copies of an iModel; and it would offer a bridge to existing file-based workflows. The actual “space” where all the iModels will be stored and managed is called the iModelHub. If it sounds somewhat nebulous at the moment, this is because it is something Bentley is still working on rather than a technology that is already available.
The Be Inspired Awards
A major part of the YII events are Bentley’s annual Be Inspired Awards which showcase the wide-ranging implementation of Bentley solutions in large and complex infrastructure projects all over the world. Some of the award-winning projects that were presented at the event are described in this section. The entire list of finalists and winners in the large number of categories can be seen here.
Morphosis, a long-standing user of Bentley solutions and frequent winner of a Be Inspired Award, won again this year in the “BIM Advancements in Buildings and Campuses” category for its work on The Bloomberg Center in New York (Figure 10). This is a four-story, 160,000-square-foot building that will be Cornell Tech’s academic headquarters. It is designed to achieve net-zero energy and a Platinum LEED rating, and one of its key sustainable facets is a broad energy canopy containing a solar panel array that shades the building and surrounding landscape. Morphosis used AECOsim Building Designer, MicroStation, Bentley Navigator, and ProjectWise to explore intricate building forms, coordinate complex building systems, and implement a comprehensive BIM strategy for better communication, improved data sharing among consultants and contractors, design coordination and clash detection for resolving issues prior to construction, minimizing field conflicts, and keeping construction on schedule.
For the “BIM Advancements in Construction” category, the winning project was a 50-kilometer bridge linking Hong Kong, Zhuhai, and Macao (Figure 11), commissioned by the Highways Department of the Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and implemented by the Leighton-Chun Wo Joint Venture. The project also included a 40,000-square-meter passenger clearance building and associated works in the boundary crossing facilities situated on a 130-hectare reclaimed island. The project team used a wide range of applications including AECOsim Building Designer, Bentley LumenRT, ContextCapture, Bentley Descartes, MicroStation, Bentley Navigator, OpenRoads, and ProjectWise, making Bentley's BIM technology the common platform to facilitate communications, and to anticipate and rectify construction problems. Solving clashes before construction saved about 12 percent of the construction budget. The survey team compared 3D design models to point cloud models to avoid discrepancies on-site, then continuously updated the design model to create accurate as-built models, saving 15 percent of the survey budget.
Another large infrastructure project was the winner in the “BIM Advancements in Project Delivery” category. This was the East Section of the Thames Tideway Tunnel in London (Figure 12), executed by Mott MacDonald and the Costain, VINCI Construction Grands Projets, Bachy Soletanche Joint Venture. It is a GBP 4 billion design-build project to resolve the problem of overflow from London's Victorian-era sewers and meet environmental standards. It includes 10 kilometers of tunnel works running 70 meters below central London, and six shafts in public view. Using the UK-mandated BIM Level 2 technology, the project team used ProjectWise to establish a common data environment for users at more than 15 locations throughout Europe, enabling documents to be delivered 80 percent faster. The model-based delivery method used on the project led to the shortening of design delivery time by six months. In addition to ProjectWise, the extended project team comprising twelve design disciplines and numerous contractors collectively used AECOsim Building Designer, Bentley LumenRT, Bentley Pointools, ContextCapture, MicroStation, Bentley Navigator, and STAAD.
And finally, another sophisticated bridge project that we learned about at YII 2017 was the Heihe-Blagoveshchensk Heilongjiang River (Amur River) Road Bridge Project by Long Jian Road & Bridge Co., Ltd. It connects Heihe City, China, to Blagoveshchensk City, Russia, and was the winner in the “BIM Advancements in Bridges” category. The length of the entire route is 19.9 kilometers, with the cable-stayed bridge portion spanning 1,284 meters in length (Figure 13). Located in the alpine region, the project is subject to extreme temperature variations and strict environmental protection. To meet these challenges and accommodate a short construction schedule, the project team implemented a collaborative BIM approach for delivery of the infrastructure project, using Bentley’s BIM technology, reality modeling applications, and ProjectWise for collaborative design, modeling, construction management, and project coordination through construction. Accurate modeling with ProStructures reduced construction errors and rework, saving both time and material. Design and collaboration using OpenRoads and ProjectWise improved modeling efficiency by 35 percent, while ContextCapture helped facilitate asset and security management and optimize earthworks through digital terrain surveys. Last but not least, Bentley LumenRT provided life-like visualizations for improved project performance and communication with the government and public.
Bentley’s annual YII conferences are a great way to catch up with the technological offerings of the company, its vision for the future, and the wide range of infrastructure projects all over the world that use its technology. As always, the YII 2017 event showed Bentley continuing its inexorable march towards expanding and strengthening its product line, completing the development of the CONNECT editions of all of its applications and making some strategic acquisitions to add to the length and depth of its product portfolio. While it may not yet be the leading AEC technology company based on revenue, it is certainly the leader in terms of the sheer number of infrastructure design applications it offers.
It is too early to comment on Bentley’s new iModel 2.0 vision and how it would actually improve upon its existing i-model technology. Going by past history, it took a few years from when the i-model was first announced to when its impact started to be felt, and it is likely to be the same for the iModel 2.0 initiative.
Undoubtedly, the best part of the YII events are the annual Be Inspired Awards, which provide the opportunity to break out from our insularity and see what is happening in other parts of the world. Infrastructure is often considered boring, so to have infrastructure projects celebrated in a gala and their creators feted—even if they are primarily limited to projects executed with Bentley solutions—is a real treat.
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