It was about this time last year that the president elect proposed a $1T infrastructure development initiative.
The prospect of a much-needed infrastructure overhaul got many engineering firms excited, and they began dusting off their project wish lists. A number of high-profile CEOs even joined together to form the CG/LA Blueprint 2025 infrastructure development coalition.
Their vision statement?
To be the most influential infrastructure country in the world, with the best infrastructure – across the board —and the most energetic, imaginative and competent firms on earth driving growth and innovation.
Of course, accomplishing a lofty goal like that is anything but easy. It’s going to require some pretty impressive advancements in both technology and engineering/planning processes. Fortunately, these improvements have been continually coming down the pipeline.
One truly fascinating way that these projects can be managed more efficiently than ever before, is through digital tools.
Terry Bennett, a Senior Industry Strategist at AutoDesk, was one of the presenters at a recent CG/LA event. He made the following point that sums it up quite well.
“…with technology, you can plan it, design it, and construct it virtually. And then understand through analytics, ‘is it going to accomplish what we want?’”
“We don’t have the luxury of a Kelly Blue Book,” he mentioned in assessing our current state-of-the-infrastructure. There’s no hard and fast rule that project overseers can turn to. To determine how long something is going to last, they still need to turn to assumptions. Those often tend to be a gamble, and thus the entire industry is chomping at the bit for better tools.
Therefore, it’s clear why better modeling and preparation are increasingly critical to success. Using the best tools available and leveraging up-to-date assessments is the way to the future.
Thanks to the capabilities enabled through the magic of digital tools, we can do just that. A few of the technologies leading the charge are…
- Cloud computing – so data can truly scale
- Reality capturing tools
- Larger-scale modeling
And we’re still in the earliest stages of adoption!
While a gap between tool capability and standard practices does still exist, it’s a gap that’s closing fast. Here are some of the ways that stakeholders can start to virtualize their infrastructure projects.
1. Cloud Scalability
Cloud-scale infrastructure development is designed to deploy massive amounts of data.
It allows teams to much more evenly distribute the data loads they need to process. The ability to scale applications and services responsively (and to meet the demand of the business in real time) will allow teams to get more done, faster. Applications will be able to run both independently and simultaneously.
To the engineer actually doing the work, scalability boils down to this. It’s now possible to process 100 records or 100 million records with the same software and achieve the same quality of capture.
Why is this capability needed for future infrastructure designers? Designers will be able to process 100s of billions of data points and grasp quickly what will work and what won’t.
Terry Bennett may have put it best himself. “More innovations will see the light of day, because it will be possible to determine what works without actually building it.”
2. Reality Capturing Tools
If you haven’t been paying attention to infrastructure development in general, you may not be aware of just how many tools industry professionals are using these days.
There are many advances that engineers and designers could only dream about a mere decade ago. For instance, consider the following tools and methods that are commonplace for infrastructure projects these days.
- Building information modeling (BIM) is leveraged to better understand life cycles and put together far more accurate cost estimates.
- Unmanned aerial systems (drones) are used to capture 3-dimensional footage of structures.
- PoE networks enable high-power devices to be deployed remotely and across greater distances with improved reliability
- Connected job sites can now take advantage of the Internet of Things (IoT). Sensors, wired and wireless networks, and tracking systems are installed for easy onsite access for managers.
- Virtual reality and program management tools can receive continuous automatic updates.
It is possible to deploy small drones to survey all the surfaces of a building to within 6 millimeters of accuracy. This allows for the construction of 3D and 360° models and the ability to run testing algorithms for all manner of metrics.
Civil, structural, transportation and construction engineers can also deploy drones to diagnose problems within existing structures. Needless to say, these tasks can be completed faster than ever thanks to these technological advancements.
Last but not least, that very same data can allow architects to catch and solve design problems on future projects before they even happen.
3. Large Scale Modeling
Large-scale modeling refers to virtualized renderings of projects. This process allows managers the ability to see projects from a whole new vantage point.
Are the design concepts going to hold up through the rigors of construction? Are the blueprints going to be feasible to follow? If the answer to any of these questions is no, they’ll have the luxury of making adjustments without sacrificing money, objectives, or ultimately the project.
This ability can potentially save millions of dollars. It also streamlines the entire building process from start to finish. Last but not least, it allows far more innovative designs to actually see the light of day.
Investors can often be cautious when faced with dramatic change. They may balk at disrupting the status quo for a long shot. This is especially the case if the status quo seems to be doing well-enough.
With large scale modeling, builders and planners will be able to save money and prioritize better. They can make a more convincing and iron-clad argument, that their new plan is better than the last, and they can now present this to investors in exciting novel ways.
Right now these capabilities can capture a building, a highway, a bridge, or a campus or airport. But Terry Bennett sees the potential for large-scale modeling as an expansion of the designer’s capability to virtualize entire cities.
The end result will be more beautiful and energy-efficient landscapes that cost the same or less to build and maintain. It just makes a lot more sense than what we’re doing now.
The next CG/LA meeting will be held in Montreal in March 2018. For anyone in the field who can afford the time and wants to see where infrastructure development as an industry is going, we’d highly recommend checking it out.
You’ll probably make some interesting new connections and it will probably cover a variety of exciting topics.
We’ve long advocated the cost savings in PoE lighting installations and green IP-based Networking. We’re excited to see the IoT and other advancements (often powered by PLANET products) making such dramatic headway in industries like infrastructure and engineering.
As always, feel free to give us a call and we’d be happy to help you find the right products for your own installation needs.