The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Cyndee Hoagland, SVP at Trimble, an industrial technology company that creates digital twins for the construction, agriculture, transportation, and geospatial industries. Hoagland discussed the benefits of the technology and how it helped improve and expedite a highway improvement project in Minnesota.
Gillian Diebold: Can you explain digital as-built technology?
Cyndee Hoagland: Digital as-built technology deploys 3D models that bridge asset design, construction, and operations. The technology enables project stakeholders—the asset owner, the engineers, and the contractors—to work collaboratively from the same model in real-time. Creating a “digital twin” centralizes and delivers project data to everyone throughout the construction and operation phases, helping to ensure that what is originally designed and modeled becomes what’s ultimately constructed and what eventually is maintained.
This modern approach contrasts with standard 2D paper drawings, which aren’t easily shareable and don’t accurately reflect changes to a project as it evolves. These shortcomings can lead to breakdowns in communication and execution that often lead to all too familiar schedule delays and cost overages.
Diebold: What kind of data does Trimble use?
Hoagland: Trimble’s domain expertise in capturing and processing geospatial, construction, project management, and asset maintenance data allows us to uniquely publish a living digital twin of an asset and deliver a complete Asset Lifecycle Management (ALM) cloud solution to the owner. This data is generally initially captured during the design process and delivered through engineering and design firms. As the asset lifecycle progresses, there are additional data inputs such as inspections captured through Trimble applications used to update the design model. Throughout the construction and building process, Trimble continues to capture constructible data. Throughout the construction phase, scanners and other technology are deployed to secure the final as-built. From that point, Trimble applications can capture the ongoing data related to future improvements and design modifications, the operation of the infrastructure and ongoing maintenance, and the related investment.
Diebold: What are the benefits of digital twins?
Hoagland: First and foremost, digital twins provide a centralized digital constructible model that gives project owners access to their asset’s as-built and as-maintained condition at all times. This information allows for more efficient management of the asset throughout its lifecycle.
Digital delivery technology also enables stakeholders to collaborate in ways that facilitate efficiency, visibility, and transparency. Providing everyone equal access to the same model throughout the project lifecycle means all stakeholders can see updates and changes in real-time. Plus, by feeding this information to project management and financial reporting systems, as well as to asset management systems, everything can be tracked – from the inventory and materials to the timeline and budget.
One of the most valued aspects of digital twins is the improved environmental impact of projects. Combining existing design and process data in one place helps prevent costly surprises—environmental and otherwise—while allowing for the evaluation of potential risks and events from the onset and throughout each phase of construction. This helps minimize rework as all design information is visible within the model. Additionally, a complete, accurate, and accessible as-built model provides detailed information to those who must maintain the asset once it’s complete, and owner-operators can more easily maintain and operate assets throughout the asset lifecycle.
Ultimately, the use of digital twins and collaborative digital as-built approaches enable assets to be designed and built faster, cheaper, and more efficiently. Building Information Modeling, or BIM technology, is driving more sustainable operations than ever before.
Diebold: What obstacles are there to using this technology?
Hoagland: The adoption of digital tools and processes continues to increase among project owners. Yet, the data which is captured throughout the various phases of the project often remains siloed. Frequently it is not readily shared across design, construction, operations, and maintenance departments. Trimble enables owners to drive efficiencies by better connecting valuable yet siloed data throughout the design, build, operation, and maintenance of the asset lifecycle.
According to the recent Dodge Data study “Connected Construction: The Owners’ Perspective” 60 percent of owners report that they have digital workflows for at least half of their project data between departments within their organization. However, only 28 percent report a similar level of digital data exchange with external companies.
The good news, however, is that the game-changing advantage of digital delivery technology streamlines data modeling and workflows that enable the data to be efficiently exchanged across stakeholders and systems during the various phases of the project lifecycle. And today, more and more project owners, contractors, and engineers are taking steps on their own to adopt the use of digital technology.
In addition, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) continues to advocate for the adoption of digital project delivery tools. FHWA’s EveryDay Counts state-based program empowers DOTs to deploy established (yet underutilized) innovations designed to make our transportation system more adaptable, sustainable, equitable, and safer for all.
Since the inception of Federal Highway’s EveryDay Counts (EDC) Program in 2011, each state has capitalized on 20 or more of the 52 innovations promoted through the program. Some states have deployed more than 45 advances. Currently, the EDC-6 program promotes the use of “Digital As-builts” and identifies digital data, such as 3D models, as beneficial to building road projects. It is recognized that sharing the design model and associated digital project data allows agencies and contractors to streamline project delivery and contract administration, as well as enables better collaboration on challenges “virtually” before they get to the field.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) also includes funding for advanced digital construction management systems and related technologies. It offers DOTs and other government agencies access to funding which helps them accelerate the adoption of digital design and construction technologies. This new Advanced Digital Construction Management Systems (ADCMS) grant program is funded at $20 million per year, for a total of $100 million, over five years through FHWA. According to the text of the BIL, the goals of the program are to “maximize interoperability with other systems, products, tools or applications; boost productivity; manage complexity; reduce project delays and cost overruns; and enhance safety and quality.”
Diebold: Can you share some of Trimble’s contributions to real-world use cases for digital twins?
Hoagland: Trimble offers innovative solutions for the design, build, operation, and maintenance stages of built assets. Trimble technology provides project owners with a platform that serves as a system of record about their portfolio of assets to improve decision-making and outcomes. Whether the owner’s assets are buildings or infrastructure, Trimble’s connected construction approach improves the usefulness and fidelity of data during each phase of its lifecycle. This is done through the use of a common data environment to store the as-designed, as-built, and as-maintained digital twin of assets.
What’s unique about Trimble’s vision for a connected platform is the delivery of both hardware and software technology that collects real-world field conditions to improve the accuracy of the 3D model used throughout the lifecycle.
One example is Highway 169 in Elk River, Minnesota, which connects the central lakes region with the greater Twin Cities metropolitan area. This road exceeded capacity, creating a bottleneck for travelers. So, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) initiated a $158 million two-year project to improve the three-mile stretch of highway and adjacent streets.
The project was designed and delivered to MnDOT using a 3D digital, paperless model, the first project in the state using a 3D model digital delivery process. Leveraging digital data helped identify an estimated $10 million in savings during the planning phase before construction even started.
Construction is now beginning and MnDOT will continue to leverage the digital model to ensure that the project is constructed as designed, which will significantly reduce rework resulting in less waste of materials which is an environmental benefit. By reducing rework and errors between design and construction, projects can be expedited, which means less traffic, less congestion which impacts the environment, and of course, improves safety by getting the job done faster.
Digital project delivery unified the owner-operator and project team efforts on this project, getting everyone on the same page from the start. The project team was able to continuously iterate the design rather than having to follow the traditional design/review cycles, which take significantly more time as activities occur sequentially versus concurrently. The digital plan also enabled public notices for relocating underground orders to go out earlier, speeding up the timeline and eliminating any winter work. Construction began at the start of spring, and additional efficiencies are being measured.