Bentley going digital (twins)

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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Bentley Systems Founder and Chief Technology Officer Keith Bentley.

Bentley Systems Inc., a global provider of comprehensive software for infrastructure design, construction and operations, has announced the forthcoming availability of iTwinTM Services, digital twin cloud services for infrastructure projects (project digital twins) and assets (performance digital twins). iTwinTM Services can be integrated with Bentley’s Connected Data Environment (CDE) for ProjectWise and AssetWise users.

“Infrastructure asset owners and their teams have recognized the potential for leveraging digital twins in many ambitious use cases, including the application of analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in simulations and decision support throughout the lifecycle of design, construction, and operations,” Bentley said. “To realize this potential, representations of assets need obviously to be digital—but to be safely relied upon as a twin there must be practical solutions for their synchronization to changing actual conditions in the real world. Moreover, merely capturing and representing physical conditions, including IoT inputs, can never be sufficient to understand, analyze or model intended improvements, without also comprehending the ‘digital DNA’ captured in the project or asset’s engineering specifications.

“To actually be worthwhile, therefore, would-be digital twins for existing infrastructure must reliably synchronize reflections of both an asset’s physical reality, and its ‘virtuality’ (engineering data). A digital twin can meet this requirement by geospatially converging the digital context (representing the physical) and digital components (representing the virtual), naturally resulting in an immersive environment for both visualization and analytics visibility.

“To date, however, the evolving 3D physical reality of an as-operated asset has been too formidably difficult to capture digitally, let alone to keep up-to-date. Meanwhile, corresponding, as-operated engineering information tends to be unavailable or at best, dated, as typically an assortment of effectively inaccessible ‘dark data’ in either opaque engineering files or unintelligent document formats. Bentley has now surmounted both of these [problems], with the confluence of its reality modeling, iModelHub, CDE, and web-visibility technologies.”

A representation of any infrastructure asset “can now be reliably captured and maintained through increasingly continuous surveys and Bentley’s reality modeling software, providing digital context in the form of ‘reality meshes.’” Bentley noted. “Overlapping photographs and supplemental laser scans, largely from drones and ground-level imagery, are processed to generate spatially classified and engineering-ready reality meshes at any desired level of accuracy—within which each digital component can be automatically recognized and/or geospatially referenced. The reality mesh can provide an efficient and immersive visual ‘twin’ to intuitively navigate for finding, viewing and querying the associated information within, or related to, the asset’s digital engineering models.”

The problem in capturing and maintaining these engineering counterparts of a physical asset—its digital components—is “the opacity of their existing representations, compounded by continuous changes,” Bentley explained. “Our iModelHub, introduced in 2017, overcomes these hurdles through automated digital alignment (to achieve semantic consistency from otherwise ‘dark data’ in known formats), and synchronization, based on change ledgers, corresponding to the CDE’s project workflows (ProjectWise) or configuration management (AssetWise).

“Once populated and synchronized by way of digital context and digital components, iTwinTM Services deliver their benefits through Bentley’s new open-source iModel.js library (iModeljs.org) for web-based immersive visualization. Infrastructure teams can easily develop custom applications that connect their digital twin for specific use cases by leveraging a vast open source ecosystem. In addition, a geospatially immersive environment for city-scale digital twins is now available through Bentley’s new OpenCities Planner services.”

ProjectWise CONNECT Edition users of Bentley’s CDE can use cloud-provisioned iTwinTM Services for any project without disruption to their existing ProjectWise workflows. iModelHub will then “transparently create and maintain the project’s comprehensive iModel: a distributed database, with its intrinsic change ledger updated at each deliverable-in-progress check-in state,” Bentley noted. “For each such update to engineering information, application-specific ‘information bridge’ processing effectuates digital alignment of the iModel’s digital components.

“To the extent of available reality modeling for the physical site, the CDE’s corresponding ContextShare service maintains updated digital context. The iModel’s digital components and ContextShare digital context are immersively merged through Navigator Web and iModel.js visualization, as authorized and secured by iModelHub.

“Accordingly, iTwinTM Services enable comprehensive project status reviews to be continuously available, synchronized to any requested project state on the iModel change ledger timeline, and/or for visualization and analytics visibility into changes between any project timeline states. iTwinTM Services will also integrate Bentley’s SYNCHRO 4D construction modeling.”

iTwinTM Services for project digital twins will be available early in 2019, with quarterly base subscription charges for each iTwinTM based upon its scale, in terms of digital components and digital context, and inclusive of cloud provisioning and web accessibility.

The iModel.js library “supports functionality to create and curate iTwins fit for particular asset performance purposes, including ‘agent’ updating of ‘data lakes’ for analytics visibility,” Bentley said. “This enables emerging AI and mixed reality technologies to be advantageously applied throughout an asset’s lifecycle, and across assets—relying, for assured fidelity spanning physical reality and engineering data, upon the necessary digital alignment, change synchronization and immersive visualization provided by iTwinTM Services.”

“Our work with early adopters of iModelHub over the past year has confirmed to me that its unique strengths for alignment, accountability and accessibility find their highest and best use, in conjunction with our reality modeling technologies, for enabling project digital twins and performance digital twins,” said Bentley Systems Founder and Chief Technology Officer Keith Bentley. “I look forward to working with users and external developers to create an open ecosystem of innovation for iTwinTM Services, leveraging the iModel.js library. I expect Bentley Systems to lead the infrastructure engineering community, as the ‘infrastructure digital twin’ company.”

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