By Adrian Malone, Head of Digital Project Delivery and BIM, WSP in the UK

Imagine that Sarah, a highways design engineer, wants to investigate the options to create a new link road to connect a planned distribution centre to the existing smart motorway network near Bristol. The planned facility will introduce connected autonomous vehicles, so this is a shaping up to be an interesting project! Sarah needs to prepare an outline design that she can take to her team and stakeholders to get their input. Let’s see how Sarah might do all of this by working with the digital twin.

Software creates outline design
Sarah starts by feeding the basic outcomes for her design into the digital twin design tool. These key outcomes are based on feedback from key stakeholders:
The new link road is defined in the strategic plan and forms an important new route, however, there are constraints on route options and layout which Sarah will need to consider
The largest occupant of the distribution centre will be adopting fully autonomous electric trucks, which need to be supported
Early public consultation has identified an area of ecologically valuable land, which the planners have committed to protect
The existing motorway is already running close to capacity at peak times and the new scheme must be delivered with minimal disruption – including zero road closures

Sarah opens the digital twin on her computer and, using a stylus, selects the section ‘existing motorway’ and adds the route of the new link road. The digital twin is connected to design tools that use artificial intelligence to automate many aspects of the design process.
To design the new highway and required changes for the smart motorway, Sarah applies rules embedded in the software and data stored in the digital twin to factor in elements such as drainage requirements, location of signage and lighting. Sarah knows that the software contains all the latest design standards and requirements and trusts that any design constraints or conflicts will be flagged for her review. She can easily interrogate the model for important issues, such as confirming that as the design evolves, adequate protections remain for the ecologically sensitive land.

Involving stakeholders and customers early
By allowing Sarah to rapidly develop her outline design, she can better engage strategic stakeholders into the design process. Sarah takes her tablet computer to a meeting with the leadership team at the distribution centre and illustrates the implications of different design choices, implementing their feedback and iterating the design in real time. This is more than just providing a 3D drive through, the client can interact with the model in real time, explore different scenarios through simulations with real-world data and accurately modelled forecasts, and get immediate feedback on the impact of design choices on metrics such as cost and programme. 

Sarah finds this process rewarding; it feels more like she is co-creating the design with her stakeholders. The modelling tools help Sarah use her expertise and professional knowledge to guide her clients through making informed strategic choices, balancing construction costs with longer term costs and wider considerations. Her clients and other stakeholders get a clear feel for the design from the start. A client once told Sarah that working in this way they felt that they retained ownership at every step, and this gave them greater confidence in delivery.   

Turning a vision into reality
This vision of the future is perhaps a world away from the current situation today. Not only would it radically speed up the outline design process, it would help professionals like Sarah to fully apply their creativity and problem-solving skills. The new tools would allow rapid optioneering and simulation, which would increase the quality of engagement.

Designing with the digital twin and its real-time visual interface opens up greater scope for co-creating alongside stakeholders, involving them in decisions and illustrating the impact of those decisions in a way that really brings them to life.

For the next post in this series, we will look at how the digital twin could support infrastructure investment decisions with the application of big data and analytics. 


About Adrian Malone:
Adrian is Head of Digital Project Delivery and BIM for Transport & Infrastructure at WSP in the UK. With more than 20 years of experience in the construction sector, Adrian has spent the majority of his career engaged with innovation and research in BIM and digital training including EU-funded research on industrialised  construction, BIM initiatives with professional institutions such as RICS and APM, and most recently, i3P. Adrian has a master’s degree in information systems, and combines his technical knowledge with a strong people and customer focus. He has experience in contacting and consulting organisations as well as both construction and facilities management. Adrian is a passionate advocate for innovation and digital transformation in the construction and engineering sector. Follow him on LinkedIn here.

Read the other articles in our series hereRead how WSP connects people for the future here