How would you manage the information produced by a construction project valued at $17 billion that will operate for potentially the next 100 years?
The information might come in the form of drawings, reports, site investigations, inspections, live traffic data, cost management, 3D models, 4D timelines, general correspondence, surveys, meeting minutes, point clouds, reviews; I could go on forever. Oh, and also make sure people can find this information quickly when they need it. Simple right?
This is essentially the question that had to be answered in order to design, build and maintain WestConnex.
WestConnex – The $17 billion road
For those that don’t know, WestConnex one of the largest infrastructure projects ever seen in Australia. The $17 billion project is comprised of 30km of roads, tunnels and associated services stretching from Western Sydney and through the heart of Sydney. Not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination and not what one would consider a standard project. A non-standard project calls for non-standard solutions.
The project is split into three separate parts to be delivered by different design and construct contractors. However, once the project is complete it must be maintainable and operable as one single asset. The ability to synchronise and collate all the information developed during the design and construction phases into a usable structure for operation is of critical importance to this project. Particularly due to the extreme time scale of use for this road.
This is not going to be an asset that gets shut down in 20-30 years. This will need to be functional for the foreseeable future, making maintenance a critical concern to the viability of the tunnel system.
Make decisions early
For a project as large as this, the general approach to information management needed to be decided as early on as possible. This is the general consensus across the digital engineering industry. Large projects are generally spread across a number of designers (structural, civil, mechanical, electrical, fire, etc), a lead contractor and then a countless number of subcontractors to undertake construction. Critical to getting everyone on board is to make sure expectations are set out early in the project, and preferably made contractual. This way everyone is clear on their expectations going forward. Training may be required in order to get everyone up to speed as well. Who pays for this training is a debate for another day (should the firm pay for training in order to stay relevant, or should the client pay for it if they are asking for it?). The governance of such systems also to be orchestrated throughout the construction lifetime and then transitioned into the operation and maintenance phase.
Willow, a technology company focussing on the built environment, outlines the projects best suited to a deep use of digital engineering. These include large, complex projects valued at over $100m, where collaboration is required across multidisciplinary project teams, where there’s a desire to improve operational outcomes and a requirement to hand over a smart, digitally enabled infrastructure network.
You can clearly see that WestConnex ticks all these boxes perfectly and is a solid candidate to benefit from the use of digital engineering.
The Custom Solution Built for WestConnex
Aurecon is a designer on the New M5 phase of the project. They identified early on that this was not a standard project and required a new platform to manage data creation and facilitate easy access for all stakeholders.
To give a sense of scale for the document management required, every week around 500 drawings will require submittal, review and approval. This will clearly result in thousands of drawings, each with a number of revisions across the length of the project. Maybe putting them in Windows File Explorer isn’t the best solution.
From my personal experience working on WestConnex and Sydney Metro as a structural engineer for Lindsay Dynan, there is a significant amount of time spent finding relevant information. Having a Common Data Environment (CDE) makes this huge volume of information able to be navigated in a way that would simply not be possible with traditional storage options. Without a CDE people would be using out of date drawings, and spend countless hours trying to find information, which will very likely result in errors, miscommunication and ultimately rework and increased costs. While a CDE does not completely solve this problem, it is a large step in the right direction.
Aurecon took the concept of CDE and combined it with the GIS system, to create a custom built CDE which they call The Digital Engine (for an overview of , check out this short video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uen_Odq1MZQ). A tool such as this allows people to explore a map to find relevant documents in an intuitive way. Regardless of the technical expertise of the user, they should be able to find a particular piece of information relating to a certain area of a project.