Application of digital technology can play a key role in solving some of the issues facing the Indian road industry. The industry is slowly moving from computer-aided designs to building information modelling (BIM), and eventually towards digital twins. At recent conferences organised by India Infrastructure on “Digital Twin Technology for Roads, Bridges and Elevated Structures”, different industry stakeholders discussed the importance of digital technology for effective project planning and asset management. Excerpts…
Digitalisation helps in solving some of the key issues pertaining to successful project implementation, ranging from time and cost overruns to arbitration and lack of coordination among stakeholders, through facilitating better control, collaboration, communication, correspondence and compliance.
BIM is a digitalisation tool that uses the latest technologies to create a digital model of an asset, besides facilitating management and analysis of large data sets. It also allows geotechnical, pile-load and superstructure testing and analysis. Apart from this, it facilitates communication between different project stakeholders. As a result, it avoids time and cost overruns during project implementation, especially for projects involving low-revenue and high-risk temporary structures. Currently, the technology is being widely used in metro rail projects in Nagpur, Chennai and Delhi. Despite the overall inadequacy of technical know-how regarding the application of BIM, it has been widely recommended right from the initial stage of project implementation.
A step beyond BIM, the digital twin technology can be leveraged by an organisation to increase its design and cost efficiency, besides developing its manpower skills. A digital twin is a digitally engineered 3D representation of a physical asset, process or system, and includes engineering information to facilitate understanding and real-time modelling of the asset’s performance. Digital twins are slightly different from BIMs. While BIM is merely a static 3D model with workflows and systems associated with it, a digital twin involves an additional “digital” context and has a “time” dimension associated with it. In the near future, the global market for digital twins is expected to grow at a much faster pace as compared to the market for BIM.
A digital twin can be used during the entire life cycle of an asset to facilitate a risk-free simulation of construction, logistics, fabrication and sequences with supply chains, along with design optimisation for passenger flows and enabling stakeholders to visualise emergency evacuation and resilience against extreme weather conditions. It involves integration of the 3D model with project planning to facilitate visualisation of the detailed asset structure, prior to commencement of construction work on the project. It facilitates real-time tracking of project progress and monitoring of the asset’s overall health and maintenance requirements. A digital twin encompasses the entire project life cycle, both from the capex and opex side. With the use of LiDAR technology and sensors, the digital information is aligned with real-time on-site parameters.
The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has been facing numerous challenges in effective project implementation. Inaccuracy of land surveys and feasibility studies, identification of project requirements on the basis of adjoining infrastructure, ambiguity in standards and specifications, technical deficiencies in project design, lack of coordination and cooperation among different stakeholders, besides cost and time overruns are some of the key issues faced by the authority. Apart from these, improper project monitoring and management also hamper successful project implementation. The digital
twin technology can be of immense help in overcoming these challenges through effective project monitoring and simulation. Currently, the authority is in the process of implementing a data lake, where all the structured and unstructured data is assembled and analysed as per the user requirement. The data lake provides alerts and predictive recommendations based on data analysis, while the digital twin can be envisaged as its outcome. NHAI has already adopted the technology and proposes to equip its upcoming highways with modern equipment such as digital sensors. The authority believes that although the need for on-site project evaluation cannot be completely substituted with digitalisation, the adoption of a digital twin during the construction phase can be of immense importance in reducing the time taken for project completion. The authority is planning to adopt 3D/5D digital twins for all its projects, right from the planning phase including alignment fixation and detailed project report (DPR) preparation. Digitalisation has helped the authority increase its award and construction speed by close to 200 per cent.
From the contractors’ viewpoint, apart from land acquisition, the factors leading to time overruns in a project include poor quality or outdated DPRs and lack of communication between contractors and project consultants. Accordingly, the need has been felt to update DPRs and align them with the changes in on site conditions at the time of project execution. Introduction of digital technologies can mitigate most of these issues by facilitating real-time transmission of project data to all stakeholders at the same time.
With changes in the regulatory environment and recent electronic toll collection initiatives, a huge amount of data is being generated from the road sector on a daily basis that needs to be efficiently handled and utilised to gain effective insights and make predictions. This has created a demand for data analytics and machine learning in the Indian road sector. Despite the availability of different types of digitalisation tools, a thrust needs to be given to ensuring effective incorporation of such technologies in project implementation. However, there is still a long
way to go in ensuring encumbrance-free sharing of data digitally. The digitalisation technologies available today often entail high costs for contractors, creating a need for a cautious cost-benefit analysis while incorporating such technologies. National security and commercial confidentiality are some of the challenges in the way of the success of technologies such as digital twins.