As our nation’s infrastructure continues to age and require replacement or rehabilitation, many utility companies and public works agencies are beginning to investigate the deployment of modern management technologies. These advancements can help reduce the strain on current facilities and optimize operations. By integrating 3D designs with operational systems, utilities can create a real-time virtual model of their assets, better known as a digital twin. These dynamic simulations use available data-driven technology paired with a digital replica of physical assets to provide both real-time and historical data for analysis and decision-making. KCI partnered with the Gwinnett County Department of Water Resources to explore the benefits of this technology by developing a cloud-based operational digital twin of a real-world wastewater pumping station.
A digital twin is a digital replica of something that exists in the physical world.
In order to build a virtual representation of a site, information is integrated from a variety of sources, including LiDAR scans, subsurface utility locating, high-resolution drone imagery, and traditional survey for ground control. The resulting point clouds, 3D surface meshes and survey data offer a true and current as-built, often including abandoned and unknown infrastructure not present on plans. This data can be utilized in future engineering design and construction at the site to help avoid delays and cost overruns.
Modern survey technologies like LiDAR scanners and UAS (drones) generate rich 3D as-built point clouds of sites.
After surveying Gwinnett’s wastewater pumping station in one day, including the structure and mechanical/electrical/wastewater assets, KCI developed a 3D Building Information Model (BIM) spatially accurate to within 1 inch using Autodesk Revit. Assets were attributed with their unique IDs and relevant data such as make, model and serial number. The model was then converted to an Esri ArcGIS 3D format. In the GIS, assets and sensors were related to their functional systems and facility – achieving an easy to navigate 3D vertical hierarchy not present in most asset management systems. Hosting the information on the cloud allowed county staff with security permissions to navigate and interact with the 3D GIS in a web browser or mobile app, eliminating the need for each user to install dedicated desktop software.
Moving from a model to the implementation of a true digital twin requires overlaying real-time data and storing it in the cloud for live and historical analysis. This information can be integrated from an organization’s existing investments in hardware and software, such as internet of things (IoT) sensors, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, and maintenance management software. Additional resources, including 311 or CRM software, weather data, and crowd-sourced information from social media, can enrich the information in the 3D GIS cloud. Using the county’s SCADA system, our team incorporated pressure, flow, temperature, vibration, and volume sensor outputs from their equipment into an Azure Data Lake. KCI asset management consultants then paired the 3D GIS model with a web-based Microsoft Power BI dashboard to provide a dynamic display of the performance of each asset.
With the data available through a web browser, stakeholders have access to the information 24/7 on their platform of choice, including desktop, tablet or mobile devices. The dashboard metrics provide valuable insights that can be used to reduce maintenance issues, extend life cycles and achieve new levels of optimization.
Digital twins are scalable solutions that offer valuable benefits, even to clients with limited resources.
James SomervilleProject Manager
Partnering with Gwinnett County to build a digital twin of their wastewater pump station demonstrated the value of this emerging technology. “The model that was produced by KCI Technologies during this project proved that this type of information is not just for design engineers anymore,” said Charlie Roberts, Gwinnett County Deputy Director Department of Water Resources. “The model, as detailed and as complex as it is, can be made available in the field to front line employees who benefit from it the most.” The real-time digital twin creates opportunities to gain increased control and awareness over operations and safeguard against common problems. Although the project was focused on the public works industry, this technology can be applied to any industry.