The big value of infrastructure digital twins is finally here

Bentley Systems Pty Ltd

By Mike Campbell
Thursday, 29 February, 2024

The big value of infrastructure digital twins is finally here

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last few years, you have probably noticed that digital twins have become a hot topic across infrastructure sectors. What was once considered futuristic eye candy is now a powerful and valuable way to combine and leverage data from disparate sources and multiple disciplines. Sure, digital twins are particularly useful for visualisation, but their real power comes from combining timely, yet potentially siloed data for a holistic, virtual view of an infrastructure asset.

Whether in design, construction or asset operations, engineering firms and owner-operators are facing resource constraints. Project demand is outpacing the number of people available to do the work, driving the sectors to transform and change how work gets done. Adopting digital twin-powered workflows can boost productivity, increase throughput and deliver better results. Infrastructure digital twins are becoming critical enablers of the design, construction and operation of assets.

Digital twin-powered workflows enable firms to seamlessly conduct design reviews and structural analysis, calculate carbon footprints and quantity take-offs, and plan construction schedules, all based on a single, up-to-date, data-rich digital twin. An infrastructure digital twin is a structured way to federate information from various systems. In addition to bringing siloed data together, a digital twin can unlock data from existing design files, essentially ‘lighting up dark data’. This unlocked data is the foundation for quickly and easily applying artificial intelligence and machine learning to drive actionable insights and better outcomes.

If you are still not convinced, here are some specific examples of how digital twins are being used in each phase of infrastructure lifecycle management.

Planning phase

After identifying the need for a new asset or infrastructure system, the planning phase begins by collecting information on costs, timing and implementation. Planning also includes feasibility studies, due diligence, asset specifications, budget estimates, contract negotiations, funding and public comments.

Infrastructure digital twins deliver value in the planning phase by helping to evaluate whether a project is economically or technically viable. A digital twin also presents a virtualised as-built environment or renders conceptual designs for stakeholder engagement.

A real-world example of an infrastructure digital twin being used in the planning phase is London’s South Dock Bridge, a high-profile pedestrian bridge linking South Quay with the city’s iconic Canary Wharf business district. Led by Arcadis, a company specialising in sustainable design and engineering, the project’s digital twin incorporated the complexity of existing multistorey basements with above-ground rendering so that all stakeholders — including the public — could visualise the design and create a plan to mitigate construction challenges in the highly developed neighbourhood.

Design phase

The conceptual project idea comes to fruition with technical details and specifications for its construction and operation, which includes requirements and criteria that consider regional, urban and environmental data, as well as other important information.

Digital twins can be used for design optimisation, clash detection, energy savings and carbon footprint reduction. They also provide better visibility into building information modelling (BIM) data and can run simulations to reduce the risk for issues such as flooding and subsidence. Another big benefit of using a digital twin in the design phase is that it can be used as a single source of truth for multidiscipline engineering data, keeping engineers, project managers, owner-operators and other stakeholders on the same page with the latest information.

WSP, an environmental engineering firm, used digital twins to design its Port of Melbourne Rail Transformation Project. With only three months to deliver final designs, WSP presented weekly design reviews to a large and involved stakeholder community, including the construction contractor and port officials. This real-time collaboration led to a right-first-time design approach, which identified potential issues early on, reducing waste and rework.

Construction phase

During construction, infrastructure digital twins can bridge the gap between project management and the field by making all plans and data accessible through any mobile device. Digital twins can expand BIM from 3D to 4D to enable better scheduling. Better scheduling and resource planning can increase the safety and efficiency of construction sites, helping to reduce carbon emissions, soil movement and delays. Digital twins can also expand 4D to 5D and include cost information, making budgets and change orders more predictable during construction.

For design and consulting firm WSB, leveraging infrastructure digital twins and workflows on road transportation projects has shrunk schedules, generated savings and, most importantly, reduced traffic disruption. For example, digital twins saved the Minnesota Department of Transportation more than US$15 million during the conversion of 2.8 miles of TH 169 into an expanded freeway with upgraded interchanges, bridge and underground utilities.

Operations and maintenance phase

The operations and maintenance phase ensures an asset performs effectively throughout its life. The phase includes monitoring, maintenance and upkeep, scheduled repairs, part replacement and inspections.

Real-time data from IoT sensors in the field can be incorporated into infrastructure digital twins to help with remote monitoring and inspections, saving time and money — and, in the case of hazardous inspections, increasing safety and reducing risk. Digital twins can optimise maintenance schedules, reduce the risk of failure and allow project managers to make better decisions related to asset replacement or decommissioning.

The Yuba Water Agency uses a digital twin to actively monitor the New Bullards Bar Dam, the second-tallest dam in California and the fifth-tallest dam in the United States. Given the height of the dam, the remote location and the rough terrain surrounding the dam, physical inspections were dangerous and difficult. A digital twin integrated with numerous IoT sensors, however, allows the Yuba Water Agency to implement remote monitoring and inspection, saving time and money and reducing risk to personnel. In addition, the digital twin proved invaluable in ensuring the dam’s structural safety following a recent earthquake.

Similarly, the Australian Rail Track Corporation is implementing a digital twin across its entire network of 9000 km of track. Using the digital twin to facilitate predictive maintenance and proactively identify potential failures will help the company avert delays, avoid downtime and minimise risk.


Regardless of infrastructure type, over time the digital twin of a project or an asset will become both its lifeblood and its central nervous system. Whether you use it during planning, design or construction, or for continuing operations and maintenance, an infrastructure digital twin can save time, money and rework; reduce delays, waste and risk; and increase safety. Overall, using an infrastructure digital twin results in better project delivery and asset performance.

Michael Campbell is the Chief Product Officer at Bentley. He joined Bentley in 2022, having previously worked for PTC Inc. He is responsible for defining Bentley’s product strategy and for managing product development to advance the company’s leadership in infrastructure engineering software. Prior to Bentley, Michael has held various positions, managing product development, product strategies and entire software businesses. He holds a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from Boston University.

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