This year’s Bentley Systems “Year in Infrastructure“ users conference was held in Singapore with over 1,400 attendees from 45 countries, including Bentley staff and about 130 media and analysts from 25 countries. This year’s theme was Advancing BIM through Digital Twins. No matter where you went, the message was digital twins, twins, and more twins across the entire asset lifecycle and every industry segment from roads, bridges, and buildings to transportation, utilities, and the process industry. BIM stands for Building Information Modeling, but isn’t just for buildings, but for all physical structures and assets as they are planned, designed, constructed, operated and maintained. Digital twins are digital representations of physical assets and their engineering information that allow users to understand and model their performance in the real world over their lifecycle. In effect, Bentley says “evergreen” digital twins advance BIM and GIS through 4D.
In addition to several products and solution releases, the Year in Infrastructure Awards, the most important announcement from LNS’s view was Bentley’s formation of a joint venture with long-time partner, TopCon Positioning Group, named Digital Construction Works (DCW). DCW is a new entity staffed by Bentley and TopCon employees, that will provide digital automation, integration, and “twinning” services, around fit-for-purpose software and cloud services to realize the breakthrough potential of constructioneering for industrializing construction. DCW subsequently announced that its first partner is O3, who provides industry-leading advanced work package (AWP) analytics, constraint management, and field productivity measurement tools. Why is this important? Because AWP is a recognized best practice of the Construction Industry Institute (CII) that focuses on the improvement of project safety, productivity, and predictability through the alignment of engineering, procurement, and construction planning, activities, and deliverables—the idea being to drive project efficiency from construction backward though engineering and design to save costs, improve quality and ensure on-time project delivery. These are challenges faced by every project but are particularly acute to the process industries, especially the offshore oil & gas business. AWP defines expectations of each applicable stakeholder group throughout the project lifecycle, from concept to construction to commissioning. AWP has been proven by CII to improve field productivity by up to 25% and reduce total install costs by up to 10%.
Bentley and APM 4.0
With digital twins being the unifying thread and theme of the entire conference, let’s take a closer look. Bentley has focused on its ability to digitally model all aspects of infrastructure, including GIS, as well as the subsurface, labeling them 3D engineering digital twins (3DT). However, LNS regards these digital representations primarily as descriptive and diagnostic aids during design and construction, but which can also carry forward into operations and maintenance. Furthermore, Bentley’s 3DTs aren’t quite the same twins as those in AssetWise in that they don’t really predict and prescribe the future state from the present state, but rather compare actual states with the virtual twin, to identify problems, track progress and perform what-if analysis on proposed changes. Here we navigate the fine line between comparing actual vs. virtual models and doing actual dynamic prediction and subsequent prescription. LNS’s research indicates that end users regard 3DTs as useful and valuable, but are not among the top three twins from a process industry perspective. More on these distinctions in forthcoming asset performance management (APM) research.
While LNS sees Bentley as a leader in the infrastructure space, Bentley has some distance to go with APM 4.0, particularly in the large continuous industry verticals, where, for example, LNS’s research shows that process twins are No. 1. Bentley has a gap here, but the good news is that their partner Siemens has recently acquired PSE, which can plug the gap. Beyond that, Bentley and Siemens have assembled a strong portfolio but need to make their strategy, go-to market and architecture clear around PlantSight, PSE, XHQ, COMOS, SIMIT, AssetWise and MindSphere.
Second, speaking of architecture, Bentley has a solid approach to data acquisition and contextualization in CDE, but we know that there is more under the hood. They did not show their iModel Hub architecture, developed in cooperation with Siemens, that ties together the 3D engineering models with time series, enterprise asset management (EAM), and other data sources, making all available to analytics workflows, digital twins, PlantSight and MindSphere. This was a missed opportunity and perhaps why some of the APM breakout sessions demos were a bit uneven, so we wonder whether the underlying plumbing and PlantSight are all there yet and ready to go. We would encourage Bentley and Siemens to bring clarity to this soon.
For end users looking for a complete suite of 3D engineering capabilities, Bentley offers a rich and extensive set of tools for infrastructure and increasingly in process, incorporating the digital twin concept across its product line. We think Bentley recognizes that digital twins are still an emerging trend and that Bentley’s approach will allow the majority of their market to catch up while not unduly penalizing early adopters.
In the APM space for assets, Bentley has a strong product offering warranting consideration. Even though their EAM is not widely adopted across the process industry, having it means Bentley can ensure the rest of the vital elements of APM can mesh with any EAM. One question mark is the services component needed to build out the APM strategy that Bentley’s tools support. Bentley stated that they want to stay a software-only company, so one may have to look to partners to deliver this.
Finally, the Bentley/Siemens partnership appears to be a strong one, and they have assembled an integrated vision from engineering through product lifecycle management (PLM), modeling, and simulation all the way to operations. Many of the products and integration elements are in place, but LNS came away thinking that the recipe needs to cook further before serving. End users should welcome their story while considering other alternatives, most of which are also works in progress. This is an area of the APM market that still needs maturing before take-up can become widespread.