Digital twinning, a long-awaited development within the infrastructure sector, is now gaining significant momentum. In the United Kingdom, the SCS Railways project stands out as an exceptional example of digital twinning during the project phase. Its objective is to deliver the 25k southern section of the £106 billion HS2 railway, connecting London and Birmingham. Anticipated benefits of the project extend to various stakeholders, ranging from on-site engineers to end users and taxpayers.
The SCS joint venture, consisting of Skanska, Costain, and STRABAG, collaborates with HS2 to establish a connection between the digital model of the southern section project and quality control and inspection documentation. This innovative approach holds the potential to revolutionize the construction process by delivering higher quality and more accurate inspection and quality control records. These records can be stored in a digital twin, which will subsequently be handed over to the client for the ongoing maintenance of the railway.
To achieve this ambitious goal, SCS is implementing a fully integrated end-to-end process that seamlessly connects engineering data and quality documentation with real-time reporting. This comprehensive approach eliminates the need for traditional paper-based workflows, fosters collaboration, encourages innovation and addresses cost-efficiency objectives. Leveraging the Zutec platform, designers, engineers, architects, and suppliers can actively contribute to the creation of SCS's digital twin, resulting in an impressive project twin of significant scale.
The underlying foundation of this approach lies in a bold and revolutionary digital strategy known as the 'Digital Blueprint' for Building Information Modeling (BIM), developed by SCS. This strategy aligns closely with the government's objective of achieving digital efficiencies and streamlining the construction process. Considering the estimated cost of the HS2 project at £106 billion, the project has been directed to identify at least £500 million in digital efficiencies.
The adoption of digital twins in civil engineering has been limited due to various factors, including the slow adoption of BIM practices, high technology costs, legacy systems, and resistance to change. However, projects like the SCS Railways undertaking represent a significant step forward, aligning with the Institution of Civil Engineers' call to utilise major infrastructure projects as catalysts for skill development and innovation.
The benefits of the SCS digital twin project are already becoming evident. It facilitates the generation of higher quality and more accurate records, supported by real-time reporting, thereby streamlining workflows and expediting inspection and quality assurance processes during railway construction. Enhanced collaboration minimizes errors, while providing the client with access to an accurate and comprehensive digital asset twin, greatly facilitating asset management.
By utilising cloud-based software, such as the Zutec platform, SCS promotes seamless integration of the supply chain by granting suppliers access to the BIM data lake. This access empowers suppliers to meet expectations and plan ahead effectively. Moreover, SCS's commitment to digital techniques and knowledge dissemination fosters seamless integration with the client and supply chain, thereby enhancing the company culture.
The successful implementation of high-profile projects like the SCS Railways initiative will pave the way for the widespread adoption of digital twinning technology. The National Digital Twin program, launched in 2018, explores the immense potential of connected digital twinning in the management of urban infrastructure. The program, led by the University of Cambridge's Centre for Digital Built Britain, aspires to establish an ecosystem of connected digital twins that yield superior outcomes for the built environment.
To realise the full potential of digital twins, ensuring data interoperability and security is of paramount importance. Prioritising data standards that promote interoperability and implementing robust data security measures will safeguard against cyberattacks that could disrupt transportation systems or compromise the security of entire cities. Protecting infrastructure information on the internet is an essential requirement.
The ongoing digital transformation within the infrastructure sector is gaining significant momentum, with digital twins gradually becoming a reality for operators in terms of modelling and live data interchange. Upcoming legislation will soon make BIM and digital twin technology mandatory. Furthermore, the attraction of tighter cost control serves as an additional driver, as asset owners and contractors actively seek opportunities to enhance productivity and profit margins in the current climate.
The level of connection achieved between the digital model and quality documentation with real-time reporting in the HS2 project is truly unique within the construction industry. It has the potential to drive the entire sector towards construction excellence by offering transparency, accountability, risk and error reduction, compliance, and access to accurate and up-to-date data for clients. The widespread adoption of this transformative technology is on the horizon, and it is essential for stakeholders not to be left behind.