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New Tech Unlocks Efficiency Right Across the Asset Lifecycle
By Richard Shennan, Group Digital Business Development Director, Mott MacDonald
Rising demand from growing populations combined with constrained resources and the need to drive down carbon emissions means we must make our assets work harder. Efficiency is everything and using new technology and innovative software applications – or developing our own – is increasingly helping us to boost asset design, delivery and operation.
At the outset of project shaping, ground conditions present one of the highest areas of risk and uncertainty to clients. The traditional method of creating ground models relied on 2D sections, based on inputs such as maps and paper reports, which were then digitised by CAD technicians using a variety of software packages.
We partnered with software developer Seequent to tailor their pre-existing package for the mining sector to create Leapfrog Works, a new 3D application for the civil and environmental engineering industry. Leapfrog Works uses fast radial base modelling functionality which links geological data to the site’s topography, providing users with an intuitive 3D visualisation which can be interrogated to analyse ground conditions and risks. The system is dynamic – meaning any new data will automatically update the geological model – and can form part of the BIM model for the overall project, aiding stakeholders and the client.
Once construction begins, keeping the digital asset (the 3D model) aligned with the physical asset as it exists in the field is crucial for effective operation and maintenance. A live two-way connection between field operatives and datasets will enable all parties to see relevant information in real time.
Fieldbook – our asset data interface for field personnel – allows decisions to be made on site about inspections, access, risks, work management and environmental protection, while enabling the maintenance of a live digital twin. This connection between physical and digital assets means activities on site are safer and more effective, while back in the office, accurate updates to the model mean it can be used to help optimise performance and reduce risk.
It is during the operational phase of an asset that most costs are incurred.
A live two-way connection between field operatives and datasets will enable all parties to see relevant information in real time
However, the abundance of easily available asset data means that smart infrastructure applications can be used to optimise performance and drive down costs. Data gathered from across the asset, combined with external data sources such as customer information or from adjacent assets can unlock new insights into performance, enabling better-decision making by asset operators that leads to better outcomes. These outcomes can in turn be measured, leading to a positive feedback loop of continuously improving assets.
This is the concept behind Moata, a platform we developed to enable asset performance optimisation. By gathering and analysing data sources in real time, not only do users have an accurate visualisation of asset condition and performance; the platform also enables predictive maintenance, identifying faults and potential problems before they occur.
For example, in Christchurch, New Zealand, growth and ageing infrastructure had led to increased sewer overflows. By applying just 42 sensors across the sewage network to measure flow rates, water levels and pressures, we enabled control room personnel to monitor performance and to locate overflow incidents in real time, allowing them to act quickly. Not only did we bring major efficiencies to Christchurch’s network operations, an unexpected benefit of the platform was seen in the aftermath of the devastating 2011 earthquake. Moata enabled users to pinpoint damage, allowing authorities to fix leaks and restore services faster. The platform can be used across all sectors to gather and analyse multiple data sources for real-time insights and informed decision making.
Learning from customer experiences is also key to streamlining performance. Our Healthy Buildings team works with managers of commercial and public buildings to optimise light levels, air quality, noise, temperatures and spatial configurations to promote employee wellbeing and boost productivity.
But how do you measure the effect that changing these variables has on employees? Although key performance indicators such as attendance data and profits can help, the time lag means it can be hard to attribute these effects directly to the working environment. So we developed Antenna, an app that employees can access via their smartphones. Employees input information on their overall wellbeing and satisfaction ratings, and this data can be aggregated to get a real-time understanding of how changing the office environment affects those who use it.
In fact, our industry is increasingly sourcing feedback from our ultimate customers – those who will use our buildings or infrastructure – to aid design and delivery. When designing new stations for the expansion of the Sydney Metro system we invited station staff and likely passengers to experience publicly accessible areas via virtual reality headsets. The results of these workshops have informed our designs, improving wayfinding and reducing the chances of congestion as a result.
New technology is already making a major impact on the way we design, build and operate and learn from our buildings and infrastructure. But no one firm has all the answers, especially given the rich seam of innovation that start-ups and established players alike are bringing to our industry. It is by connecting innovation to outcomes through our Mott MacDonald Digital Ventures ecosystem that we have the greatest opportunities to deliver economic, social and environmental benefits for all.
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