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Digital technologies play an increasing role in infrastructure operation and maintenance. Egis is exploring the potential of a particular digital solution, the digital twin, to optimise the operation and maintenance of assets throughout their entire life cycle.
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The digital twin is a virtual replica of a physical asset. For infrastructure, it acts as a decision-making tool that integrates data from multiple sources – including historic data, on-site sensors and predictive modelling tools – to create a real-time representation of the road network so asset managers can better understand the asset’s performance and use.
Supporting predictive maintenance
The accuracy and reliability of the data collated into the digital twin provides potential for more efficient infrastructure maintenance. Rather than rely on traditional visual inspections to determine when maintenance needs to be scheduled, the digital twin can calculate the best time for maintenance. This predictive maintenance approach, increasingly favoured by asset managers, not only reduces the additional costs incurred by unscheduled maintenance, but also reduces the disruption of that unscheduled maintenance to motorists.
Improving decision making accuracy and efficiency
Located north of Manila in the Philippines, the Candaba Viaduct is a 5.3km long structure in operation since 1977. The concessionaire and operator of this structure, NLEX Corporation, made several inspections of the viaduct to assess the curative and preventive maintenance due to structural degradation directly related to the regular heavy truck traffic. To overcome NLEX’s challenges in compiling and processing information to optimize maintenance works over time, Egis created a digital twin that combined historical data on the structure of the viaduct with real-time condition reports. The data integrated into the digital twin platform helped to better diagnose the cause of the deterioration on this section of motorway and better determine how best to maintain it.
The platform also enabled staff and stakeholders to become more familiar with Candaba Viaduct, thanks to 3D visualisation. Where assets are difficult or dangerous to access, such as the viaduct, the twin allows maintenance teams to remotely visualise the asset more easily and safely than in real life. As the operation and maintenance teams were more familiar with the asset and had more reliable data to draw on, the digital twin resulted in more accurate, more efficient and faster decision making around maintaining the viaduct.
Providing a collaborative platform
At the Candaba Viaduct, we also saw the success of the digital twin as a collaboration platform. With information centralised in the twin and easily accessed through a web browser, it facilitates more effective collaboration between all the stakeholders involved in the operation and maintenance of the infrastructure. By incorporating multiple data streams and digital technologies into a shared platform, the twin also becomes a tool to exchange information, co-ordinate activity and communicate about the asset.
The twin as a virtual training tool
On the A63 motorway in south-west France, we have seen the benefits of the digital twin as a training tool for patrollers. The Egis Exploitation Aquitaine team has developed a virtual reality learning module, where both new and experienced patrol officers use virtual reality headsets and handheld controls to complete training on motorway safety and callout procedures.
By implementing training through virtual and augmented reality rather than on the road network, it keeps patrol teams safer as it reduces their exposure to live traffic. With training taking place away from the live road network, this also brings added benefits for motorists as they experience less disruption from the lane closures or speed restrictions required when patrol teams are present in the motorway.
Simulating road network incidents
As well as applying the digital twin for virtual training on the A63 motorway, Egis has also used the twin to simulate a pollution incident and demonstrate how the asset would behave in that scenario. By simulating the incident within the 3D model, we were able to determine the operational response and environmental impact of such a scenario.
Looking beyond the A63, the digital twin could be used to simulate other types of incidents impacting road networks to improve operational procedures, minimise environment impacts and, potentially, reduce traffic disruption.
The digital twin within asset management
When considering how the digital twin supports predictive maintenance, team collaboration and visualisation of the asset, it’s clear its potential stretches well beyond just driving more efficient management of day-to-day operation and maintenance activities. It is a natural fit for asset managers to look to employ digital twins as part of longer-term asset management, as digital twins offer the means to understand current asset performance in addition to the risks and opportunities for future performance.
As discussed by Egis Asset Management and Products Director David Simpson in his article, infrastructure managers are faced with complex ecosystems of digital tools and technologies for asset management. Without these tools and technologies being fully embedded within the global asset management approach, the existing digital solutions are not being implemented to their full capacity. The digital twin can combat this issue as it consolidates multiple digital technologies and data streams into the one platform to facilitate more effective asset management.
Exploring the potential
The digital twin provides an opportunity to harness digital technology to create more resilient and sustainable infrastructure. It can support faster, more accurate decision-making, while improving worker and driver safety. By applying the digital twin to asset management, it will deliver better long-term maintenance of infrastructure for the benefit of drivers, asset managers and infrastructure investors alike. The examples in France and the Philippines are just the beginning of Egis’ exploration how the potential of the digital twin could be maximised across road operation and maintenance.