The future of transport is digital: infrastructure management

by Philippe Clapin and Didier Le Guirriec, Sopra Steria France

In our third and final look at the future of transport we are exploring how the use of digital technologies within infrastructure management can be used to improve overall maintenance and efficiency, ultimately lowering costs and improving user experience.

At the last European Logistics Platform meeting in Brussels this year, the white paper outcome from the meeting stated that:

“Digitalisation remains the most important aspect when it comes to innovation in the field of freight transport. The cost of a lack of interoperability in multimodal transport in Europe is as large as €12 billion per year. If Europe wants to remain competitive, we have thus to ensure that we as policy makers provide the right framework conditions that will stimulate the digitalisation of the transport sector.”

Analysts McKinsey have predicted that the world needs an investment of $57 trillion into transport infrastructure by 2030 to keep up with world GDP. That’s an increase of 60% over the past 18 years. Managing this challenge is one where we can utilise information technology – digital techniques and tools can certainly help to optimise services and minimise costs. McKinsey, in the same report, suggest that one way to optimise delivery of transport systems is by investing in early-stage planning and design to help mitigate some of the costs. The digitisation of transport is about creating new paradigms in the visualisation and capitalisation of data of a given system and to use that knowledge to build more optimised and maintainable infrastructures. There are a number of techniques involved in this emerging area of transport management. Here, we’ll concentrate on 3D modelling techniques.

3D modelling within a transport infrastructure context

The goal of infrastructure management should be one of optimisation of available spaces and systems whilst managing constraints. Creating integrated infrastructures today includes making sure those infrastructures are part of a wider eco-system and are fit for purpose within it. There are a number of drivers that are pushing the need for a more sophisticated and more ‘real-world’ view when designing these new systems. These drivers include environmental constraints, such as seismic activity and rainfall, as well as contextual design considerations based on existing and expected structures around the transport system. We may also see more of a green impact on the design of transport infrastructures, especially in light of the recent events at the Sustainable Innovation Forum in Paris this month, where the future of transport was discussed at length. A report from the conference entitled ‘Transport @COP21 Paris’ goes into detail about how climate changes are impacting infrastructure design and development.  It is in the optimisation of design of transport infrastructures and their progressive management, where 3D modelling comes into its own and gives transport and logistics projects a technology that can truly deliver the right design.

The optimal use of a transport system infrastructure impacts across many levels of society – from transport and logistics efficiency, to productivity and economic output of a given region. The building and continued management of transport infrastructures can be difficult, requiring financial backing, policy decisions, as well as public acceptance. The current row over the expansion of Heathrow airport in the UK has shown how infrastructure decisions can have wide-reaching impact and draw enormous financial, socio-economic and political resource into the equation.

Digital technologies, such as Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) and 3D modeling techniques, can help in the management of new or improved infrastructures. The advantages that using 3D modelling can confer on the management of transport infrastructures are far reaching. Done well, they provide an intelligent way of conveying the (often) complex nature of an infrastructure design and 3D output can be used to provide insight. And modelling, based on the underlying structured data, used to build the 3D model.

This can then be used to offer visualisation logistics around site planning, predictions based on geospatial requirements and climatic conditions, as well as a way of communicating the ideas and plans to the stakeholders – a vital part of any user-centered design-based project that requires buy-in from a wide audience, some of whom may have negative feelings towards the plans.

3D modelling offers a more intuitive way to not only design a project, but handle the extended needs of the project as it passes through the various gates required to execute and deliver.

3D optimisation through Agile working

Agile working and 3D modeling go hand in hand. PLM is enhanced by incorporating the tenets of Agile work practices. Companies like La Poste Online use these methodologies and tools to provide a better service to their customers. Visualisation of processes can help to show customers possible innovations, and working with these technologies in an agile and innovative way, can break molds and offer better and more attractive products.

Transforming infrastructures through digital technologies

3D modelling is a transformative technology. It is a tool that not only gives your audience a glimpse of the possible, but it is powerful enough to allow designers to generate optimal infrastructure plans, based on real-world constraints. 3D modelling must be used as part of the wider Product Lifecycle Management process, drawing in all of the actors in a given project to create a multi-disciplinary approach to infrastructure design and management. In this way, the digitisation of transport will benefit from state-of-the-art tools which will give us a more efficient transport system, that utilises resources in a world that is becoming increasingly urbanised, where populations are expanding and requiring more integrated transport systems and where climatic constraints are creating challenges we could not easily plan for without the benefit of sophisticated and powerful digital means.

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