Whitepaper Released on Infrastructure Digital Twins


The Authority in Digital Twin, the Digital Twin Consortium, has recently released a new whitepaper intended for the infrastructure industry, in that it influences the direction of the use of digital twins in the industry, improves interoperability of technologies and influences standard requirements.

The Digital Twin Consortium is a global ecosystem comprising industry, government, and academia. It was founded to accelerate the development, adoption, interoperability, and security of digital twins and enabling technologies.

According to reports, Infrastructure Digital Twin Maturity: A Model for Measuring Progress is meant to guide infrastructure stakeholders as they incorporate digital twins in their projects.

“Real estate owners recognize the importance of digital transformation of their processes, and digital twin adoption is on the rise. To measure progress, business leaders need to know where they are and where they are going,” said John Turner, Vice President, Innovative Solutions, Gafcon, and one of the authors of the document. “Digital twin adoption is a marathon, not a sprint, and the maturity model provides a long spectrum for leaders to measure their progress.”

The document outlines a five-stage process that organizations can follow based on their digital twin maturity level. The levels include:

  • Dinosaur: Laggards who resist using digital twins and digitizing legacy projects;
  • Average: Includes stakeholders who observe digital twins passively. They are the first to automate to eliminate conflicts in the field, but they operate in siloes;
  • Leader: These active observers of digital twins recognize the benefit of data sharing, but they often do not involve business owners in the process;
  • Evangelist: Sees the benefit of digital twins, defines active digital twin prototypes, and defines data sharing between point solutions; and
  • Pioneer: Actively adopts digital twins across the organization and eventually the supply chain.

“A maturity model defines the best path to business benefit,” said Salla Eckhardt, Director, Transformation Services, Microsoft, and one of the authors of the document. “The model will help organizations measure the level of maturity they need for successful digital twin deployments.”

The paper also advises business owners to manage projects across five dimensions that apply to infrastructure projects and consider participants' digital twin maturity levels. Dimensions include:

  • Organizational structure to define the participants in a digital building lifecycle and their interactions;
  • Organizational performance to incorporate process, results, and predictive metrics into KPIs and dashboards;
  • Use and enhancement of the digital thread to support organizational structure and enable digital transactions;
  • Integration of business functions, including additions to the digital thread in terms of scope, cost, schedule, assets, sustainability, risk, and supporting functions; and
  • Use of catalog and repeatable design and construction elements.

Digital Twin Consortium is reportedly working on additional projects to enable infrastructure stakeholders to measure and monitor maturity levels. These include a questionnaire with a scoring matrix, use cases to help them understand context, and guides to help improve digital twin maturity levels.

Digital Twin Industry Incorporation

In 2020, the United States Navy was reported to have begun exploring the use of a new digital software to help combat shipboard repairs and maintenance services. The digital twin technology was comprised of IT networks where maintenance engineers located at surface warfare centers could identify damage, corrosion and alignment issues more quickly. The practice aids crews in being more proactive about the vessel’s maintenance prior to docking at the port.

“Our ability as in-service engineers to support the fleet currently requires extensive onsite personnel in order to identify configuration, damage, corrosion and other mechanical issues,” Alan Jaeger, manager of Naval Sea Systems Command’s Office of Research and Technology Applications, said in a statement at the time.

“The concept of a ‘digital twin’ or as-built models of surface ships provides extensive opportunities to better serve the fleet. Imagine being able to not only collect valuable information without placing maintenance personnel in potentially hazardous situations, but to also do it with the ship underway while obtaining better and more accurate data in the process."

The research into the technology launched after the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Port Hueneme, California, signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with unmanned aerial systems company, Aerial Alchemy, in June 2018.

Through the agreement, the team started looking into how digital twins could be used and began by producing a digital twin of the research vessel “Independence” in addition to other ships in the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt strike group.

Prior to the agreement, the Navy was still commonly using the Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services program, which aims to move all its ships toward a common IT baseline. However, because every ship is different, the move to a digital twin approach has developers exploring more accurate models of vessels in a real-world network at any particular point in time.

To create a digital twin, Aerial Alchemy first worked to define the appropriate amount of remote-sensing technologies that would be needed to design a purpose-built unmanned aerial system. According to reports, Aerial used LiDAR and hyperspectral imaging, which is able to analyze information collected from across an electromagnetic spectrum.

The technology can also detect corrosion, as paint reflects radiation differently if there is underlying rust.

Scans from drones and onboard photogrammetry were used as well, to create a time-based, geotagged, metadata-dense models of the Independence. The Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer reports that these models are much more actionable datasets which can lead to a reduction in maintenance costs and human error because engineers are now able to make decisions prior to failure by degradation.

Once collected, the information is collected for operation in a commercial cloud environment where maintenance engineers (both on and offshore) can develop solutions.

The project was part NSWC’s Naval Innovative Science and Engineering research on technologies that can advance the future of in-service engineering. The Federal Technology Transfer Act of 1986 allows warfare centers and research laboratories to collaborate with industry and academic in research, engineering and technology development.

Earlier this year, officials from Collins Engineers were reported to be working with the Minnesota Department of Transportation on incorporating Microsoft HoloLens headsets with software from Bentley Systems. The use of the technology was expected to speed up the inspection process on the James J. Hill Stone Arch Bridge while the project works through the design phase.

According to reports, the HoloLens headsets work by incorporating high-resolution drone photographs of the structure and piecing them together in a sort of “reality mesh” 3D model comprised of millions of polygons. The result creates what Bentley describes as a mixed-reality workflow, which aims to combine inspection photographs with physically being onsite, without actually having to be onsite.

The technology is currently part of Bentley’s AssetWise system, and the reality meshes are linked up to the digital twins maintained of existing structures.

Dan Vogen, Vice President, Road and Rail Asset Management at Bentley Systems reports that the technology offers more information traditionally produced in regular 3D models and is better able to convey the structure’s texture and current conditions.

While the reality mesh can be viewed on a computer or tablet, in using the cloud-connected HoloLens, users can view the bridge at a zoomed-out tabletop view of at a 1:1 scale, allowing engineers to see portions of the structure up close in high resolution. During this type of virtual inspection, the engineer can add annotations, perform measurements, and highlight potential problem areas.

Bentley is currently exploring HoloLens as an inspection tool for other difficult-to-access structures, including communication towers and electrical utility transmission towers.

While MNDOT has policies in place governing drone flights for bridge inspections that comply with Federal Aviation Administration regulations, Jennifer L. Wells, MNDOT state bridge inspection engineer, predicts that a version of the workflow could eventually become a standard practice for bridge inspections in the state.

Most recently, last month, the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division (NSWC PHD) announced a new partnership with remote-sensing technology company Aerial Alchemy in an effort to solve how corrosion affects the performance of Navy ships’ combat systems and to find a way to detect corrosion remotely.

The partnership will reportedly operate under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA).

In partnering with Aerial Alchemy specifically, the NSCW PHD is slated to use its medium and heavy-lift UAVs, which use sensors equipped with lidar scanning and other imaging technology, to accurately capture data used to generate a 3D digital representation of a physical asset, also known as a digital twin.

The partnership’s overall goal is to explore using Aerial’s drones and its processing system and visual data to detect areas that may have corrosion. As a drone flies over a specified area of a ship, such as a hull or the rear, it transmits video to create a digital model of a ship that contributes to the ship's detailed analysis, including potential areas of concern for corrosion or rust.

According to Alan Jaeger, NSWC PHD Office of Research and Technology Applications manager, if the UAV and sensors are able to successfully detect corrosion, it will give scientists an early head’s up of the issue.

The partnership is also anticipated to bring many benefits to the Navy and the warfighter, including reducing the labor costs of inspections and the ability to inspect difficult and high-risk areas.

In launching their combined research efforts, Aerial, alongside Jaeger, Stephens and Armen Kvryan, NSWC PHD lead materials engineer, plan to conduct first sensor tests in a laboratory in order to explore the different types of corrosion and degradation the sensors can identify on different kinds of metals, such as aluminum and steel.


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