Utility companies are responsible for a vast and complex network that carries electricity and natural gas to homes and businesses throughout major metropolitan and rural areas. Many utility companies are working off of paper map digitizations and field records, which easily become out of date when repairs or upgrades are completed. Inaccurate data can lead to significant issues with abandoned infrastructure or unexpected field conditions, causing construction delays and budget overruns, impacting the ability to meet customer demand, and resulting in unsafe conditions with potentially devastating consequences.
To develop an accurate depiction of their facilities, KCI assisted Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) with mapping two gate stations, where natural gas changes ownership from a major transmission company to the local distributor and their network. Our team then developed prototype 3-D augmented reality models for the sites and is continuing to investigate the operational benefits of creating a true digital twin.
By using new technologies and innovative approaches to problem solving, we are finding practical, cost-effective solutions to project challenges in the rapidly advancing utilities environment.
Robert C. MacoyVice President, Regional Practice Leader
KCI surveyors used LiDAR scanners to document field measurements at each location. A composite of 20 separate scans was compiled into 3-D point clouds. Engineers then integrated data collected using subsurface utility locating, cutting-edge radio-frequency-based geophysical techniques, and high-resolution drone survey grade mapping to accurately depict underground infrastructure.
Augmented Reality Model Development
Our team then developed a highly accurate 3-D BIM model that is compatible with the Microsoft HoloLens augmented reality headset.
Benefits and potential uses include efficient plan sheet development, ease of update, safety and operational training, as well as integration with other augmented and mixed reality platforms. In each case, the model offers a demonstrative value through cost savings, increased efficiency and/or improved safety.
- Plan Sheet Development. Once the model is complete, site plans can be generated in a matter of minutes. “We can export it into CADD or the Revit model can be provided to the engineering team as a baseline for preparation of construction documents,” said KCI Project Manager Ron Dove. “Utilities will be more confident that existing details have been accounted for, while driving down costs associated with data collection of existing conditions when developing plans for upgrades or conducting repairs.”
- Ease of Update. A full LiDAR rescan is not required to document upgrades, rehabilitations and expansions completed at a site. Instead, surveyors can quickly scan just the portion of the facility affected. Due to the extreme geospatial precision, the data can be easily integrated into the existing model, which will once again reflect accurate conditions.
- Training. Utilities can utilize augmented reality for a variety of training purposes. New and existing employees can view the model with various overlays of information to teach them about the facility as well as inherent risks.
- Integration with Other Platforms. KCI is also investigating the potential for integration with other augmented and mixed reality solutions, like vGIS, a visualization platform for locating assets in the field. The combination of the two technologies would facilitate greater situational awareness and safer work environments for operators, technicians, and construction crews.
“As an engineer at BGE, we have been challenged by executive leadership to make innovation more than just a thought, but a reality,” said BGE Gas and Plant Operations General Engineer Bobby G. Henry III. “Our team has developed an ongoing relationship with KCI to develop and implement an innovative solution that identifies important underground assets without excavating the entire asset. The implementation of this technology through 3D modeling and HoloLens products has provided BGE the ability to become a front runner in underground asset identification.”
The Future: Operational Improvements and Digital Twin
The next step in the development process will be using the accurate existing information to support operational efficiency. “3-D models have become great reference documentation for construction documents, but we’re looking to take that to the next level,” said Dove. “Clients are beginning to look at technology enhancements, like digital twins, to optimize operational performance, for predicted maintenance, and to ensure accurate as-builts for existing infrastructure.”
The digital twin concept combines the accurate geospatial geometry of an object, in a digital sense, with the real-time physical operation. The goal is to enable better data-driven decision making by coalescing input from multiple systems into a common platform. “We’re looking at how we can make it easier to consume and leverage data that is already being collected,” said mechanical engineer Michael Price, PE. “The combination of BIM models with user dashboards becomes an attractive option, for instance as a tool for control room operators to visually see graphs and charts as well as specific pieces of equipment in real time.”
The utility industry collects an immense amount of information, including SCADA (supervisor control and data acquisition) software, maintenance work orders, historical gas usage, purchase pricing, and even weather data. “With the age of the internet of things, more sensors and measurements are collecting a vast amount of information,” said Price. “Why not use that for real measurable benefit.”
Through integration and a user-friendly interface, utilities will be able to automate and augment their metric and reporting capabilities as well as existing forecasting methods. Integration will lead to workforce efficiency gains, and ultimately allow for additional enhancements such as predictive maintenance. “The plan is to leverage business intelligence data analysis and deliver it through an easy to use set of dashboards,” said Dove. “After that, we will look towards predictive modeling.”
Although preliminarily focused on the utility industry, this emerging technology could work for any major mechanical system, including large campuses, manufacturing plants, and public works infrastructure networks.