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Autodesk – Going digital is the key to a new way of building in post-lockdown Ireland

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In the area of public transport, to alleviate expected increased pressure the government recently announced that cycling and walking infrastructure will be allocated 10% each from the transport capital investment budget, or approximately €360 million every year.

Future capital investment plans include the rollout of
BusConnects in Cork, Limerick, Galway, and Waterford, and increased investment in intercity and suburban rail. The continued support for infrastructure schemes is of course important, but the long-term demands on transport overall could change after Covid, especially as more companies consider the benefits of remote working and flexible office hours.

This could encourage and facilitate further growth and development in rural Ireland while also creating increased demand for transport links outside of Ireland’s main cities. Indeed, how we use all residential and commercial spaces, and the transport links between them, may permanently change with our behaviours and attitudes to lockdown and virus suppression.

The new government’s recently published five-year plan, Our Shared Future, sets other ambitious goals for infrastructure, including more social housing, new roads, and a home retrofitting scheme. The government also has an equally ambitious environmental vision, which includes a 7 per cent average annual cut in carbon emissions and a new climate action bill.

Construction will obviously play a major part in these plans, and taking a digital-first approach will ensure goals can be met while meeting construction needs in sustainability, such as the elimination of the use of paper on site, and efficient resourcing, such as enabling site planners to work remotely.

In the immediate term, current social distancing requirements mean that overall passenger capacity on public transport remains restricted to just over 20% of pre-Covid levels.* Maintaining social distancing on already congested transport, such as the Luas and Dublin Bus, will require rethinking conventional spaces and how people move within them. The solution lies in digital.

Making better use of readily available digital technology helps us to be precise and efficient with our resources; it also helps us to visualise data, like plans, in appropriate ways that enable engineers to achieve understanding and buy-in among stakeholders. This results in lower costs, less waste, and more appropriate outcomes with better collaboration among participants.

For industry and government, the current focus is understanding how public spaces can be re-opened to allow for safe physical distancing, management of the movement of people, and effective air circulation.

Digital context modelling tools, for example, can be used to rapidly build urban environments from geospatial data and digital asset records. The developed context models can also be augmented with the reality capture of local features in the form of 3D point clouds created from laser scanners or drone surveys. For the government’s new transport investment, this could help planners better understand the available regions suitable for modification and, through simulations, the implications of turning existing roads into new cycling and walking pathways.

Civil engineers, architects, and planners aim to solve problems and improve the wellbeing of communities and their citizens. Typically, this has not been a straightforward process because construction does not happen in a vacuum; new projects inevitably overlap with existing roads, buildings, bridges, rail lines, utilities, ground conditions, natural environments, and so on.

To determine the impact of these projects, engineers need to fully understand each site’s existing conditions and geographic context, including topography, floodplain, connecting roads, underground infrastructure, and the local ecology.

Much of this information is already available in geographic information systems, or GIS, as well as a variety of asset databases. Such systems are typically maintained by specialist teams within public sector departments and are rarely made available to others, such as project teams, who might typically re-survey an area under study capturing only a fraction of what is already known.

Where valid geospatial and asset datasets exist, they can be leveraged in the creation of accurate federated context models of the current infrastructure, as well as local built and natural environments. These context models can then be used to create multiple options for modifications, such as the removal of running lanes for replacement with new cycle highways. Subsequent simulations of the proposed changes can identify impacts on traffic flows and pedestrian movements, as well as the local environment.

Adopting BIM (building information modelling) rather than a traditional 2D drawing approach to delivering design proposals opens up a whole range of opportunities for the construction sector. Most significantly, where a model is prepared it can be repurposed for carrying out subsequent analyses, which are traditionally undertaken as disconnected separate studies.
 
For example, while reduced services are running for public transport, now is the time to use data to look at mobility simulations of how people circulate a space, and what would happen if capacity was reduced or pre-determined routes were implemented to enter and exit a train or bus station.

Software can exploit models to simulate what would happen if the number of ticket barriers were reduced in a train or bus station, or to estimate a train platform’s required capacity to allow for between one and two metres of social distancing.

Furthermore, to re-design the layout of the space or limit access during peak times, computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulation can also be used to simulate and understand airflow in a train or bus station, as well as the impacts of potential emergencies.

The importance of data continuity should not be underestimated. If the opportunities from digital workflows described above are to be realised, public agencies should be open to accepting GIS and BIM-based planning submissions when reviewing and assessing infrastructure proposals. There is a legacy of only accepting 2D drawing-based submissions that are hard to interpret, prone to error, and very difficult for the lay public to understand.

Rich context models that show proposal options, impacts on the current configuration, and simulations of traffic and pedestrian movements between the current and proposed states are more accurate and easier to understand. That means there is a far better chance of arriving at suitable consensus decisions without excessive investments of time and money.

Leveraging digital workflows to explore and simulate multiple options can reveal opportunities that might not be apparent from a traditional engineering method.

For example, in Ireland, there is increasing use of constructed wetlands for wastewater treatment works that are created in such a way that the paths around them can be used for recreation, trading the use of land for reduced energy consumption. Multiple alternatives need to be explored to achieve such an innovative outcome, and by adopting a digital approach this becomes easier, quicker, and more effective.**

Given population density has been a significant contributing factor to the spread of Covid-19, longer term we should be relooking at urban planning and how to design the city of the future.

Creating rich context models from the outset of a project will enable infrastructure professionals to better assess the intersection between our built and natural environments. In doing so, they can minimise the negative impacts that their planning and design decisions have on this balance and the communities they serve. Managing information across the project life cycle can leverage common data platforms to ensure the right parties securely get access to the right data at the right time.

While some aspects of normal life will return as they were before the lockdown, others will change forever. We need to ensure we retain the beneficial changes from improved technology adoption to minimise the impact to the economy and exploit the opportunity these exceptional times present.

Marek Suchocki is the Infrastructure Industry Engagement Lead EMEA at Autodesk.

References
*https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/ed29dc-irelands-response-to-covid-19-transport-measures/

** CEEQUAL Version 6 | UK & Ireland Projects Land use and ecology Issue, 27/06/2019 Page 77 of 205

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