In a remarkable era of technological advancements, the infrastructure sector is witnessing a ground-breaking shift towards digitalisation. At the forefront of this transformation lies the innovative concept of digital twins, a virtual replica of physical assets that captures real-time data and simulates their behaviour.
At Building Nations 2023, Graeme Newton, Chief Executive Officer at Cross River Rail Delivery Authority (Cross River), highlighted the Cross River Rail project in Brisbane as an exceptional case that exemplifies the advantages of digital twins. By leveraging the capabilities of digital twins, this project is revolutionising the way infrastructure projects are planned, constructed, and operated, setting a precedent for the future of urban development.
Below, we discuss the key insights gleaned from employing a digital twin in the Brisbane Cross River Rail project, as presented at Building Nations 2023, highlighting the advantages and lessons learned through the implementation of digital twin technology in infrastructure development.
1. Early integration of digital twin technology
Creating and planning for a digital twin at the outset of a project's lifecycle is crucial to establish a comprehensive representation of the relevant physical asset.
This was a key learning communicated to Cross River from its British counterparts, the Crossrail project in London (a similar project launched in 2009, creating new tunnels and underground stations throughout central London). Before contractors had even been appointed, the Cross River team had mapped out a strategy for the role of a digital twin in the project to ensure the best possible outcomes during construction.
2. Contractual inclusion of common data obligations
Ensuring that, from the outset of the project, any contractual agreements with key contractors include the necessary obligations to allow for the creation of a digital twin.
In addition to the standard contractual provisions regarding intellectual property ownership, the Cross River team recognised the importance of including additional obligations relating to "common data". These requirements mandated the use of a common data environment for all project-related datasets and the adoption of consistent data formats to create one unified Building Information Modeling (BIM) model.
3. Creating an immersive experience for stakeholders
The Cross River project team "gamified" the digital twin, creating a virtual version of the Cross River Rail project using gaming software.
This immersive approach not only allowed stakeholders to virtually explore and experience the project as if they were physically present, but also facilitated visualisation and integration of urban development. This helped to foster deeper stakeholder and community engagement, facilitate early issue spotting and informed decision-making, and speed up safety case approvals.
4. Reusability and scalability
The "gamified" digital twin developed for the Cross River Rail project has extensive reusability and scalability. By creating a digital blueprint of Brisbane's CBD, future projects can leverage the existing digital twin, reducing costs and expediting the development process.
Moreover, digital twin technology offers scalability, enabling the integration of additional assets or systems as projects evolve, ensuring long-term adaptability and cost savings.
5. Upfront costs / commitment to realise advantages
While implementing digital twin technology requires upfront investment and commitment from the project owner, the Cross River Rail project highlighted the long-term advantages that outweigh these initial costs.
By committing to the adoption of an immersive digital twin from the outset of the project, the project team benefited from improved project efficiency, enhanced collaboration and engagement with stakeholders, and optimised decision-making throughout the project lifecycle.
The Cross River Rail project is a great example of the numerous benefits of utilising digital twin technology in infrastructure development, even in the presence of an ongoing construction phase.
By integrating and planning for use of a digital twin early in the project, baking in the necessary common data requirements in the relevant contracts, and creating an immersive experience for stakeholders and the project team, Cross River has demonstrated the transformative potential of this technology.
Moving forward, these valuable learnings pave the way for future projects to embrace the use of digital twins for a more efficient, sustainable, and collaborative future. The project sets a solid foundation for future projects in the Brisbane CBD to potentially seamlessly integrate, which will drive efficiency and optimise resource allocation – for example, infrastructure required to be built for the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
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