All govt infrastructure projects to use a digital twin

By Dylan Bushell-Embling
Monday, 13 September, 2021

All govt infrastructure projects to use a digital twin

Infrastructure Australia aims to ensure all federally funded infrastructure projects incorporate a digital twin within the next 10–15 years, as part of its 2021 Australian Infrastructure Plan.

The newly published plan calls for the government to adopt a ‘digital by default’ posture for infrastructure projects, and for the infrastructure sector to embrace digital innovation and the use of data tools.

According to Infrastructure Australia, productivity growth in Australia’s infrastructure and construction sector has failed to keep pace with comparable sectors; as a result, the sector has become 25% less productive compared to sectors such as mining, manufacturing, retail and transport.

The plan states that governments can work together to accelerate digital twins for infrastructure projects by creating governance models, processes, technologies, systems and capabilities.

Infrastructure Australia has made additional recommendations including establishing a national office for digital by default in infrastructure. This office would be led by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications and supported by industry representative groups including the Smart Cities Council of Australia New Zealand and Australian Smart Communities Association.

Under the plan, the new office would work with states and territories and their infrastructure delivery agencies, as well as other key stakeholders, to provide a unifying strategy for embedding digital infrastructure delivery and operations as the default.

The first task of the new office would be to develop a clear roadmap for national digital infrastructure. This roadmap would encompass initiatives including the establishment of an Intelligent Infrastructure Innovation Scheme across all levels of government.

It is envisaged that the scheme would begin with public works infrastructure where the government has the most influence, before flowing on to commercial and residential sectors.

The report also calls for 100% of infrastructure projects with a budget of over $50 million to have digital asset champion roles, appointed by the state and territory infrastructure delivery agencies.

Meanwhile, federally funded projects should adopt innovative approaches across their life cycle, including building information modelling (BIM), digital engineering, embedded sensors and digital asset management, the plan states.

Within the next five years, all major infrastructure projects should be digitalised by incorporating contemporary technologies including BIM.

According to the plan, BIM and digital engineering have been shown to deliver better project outcomes, increase productivity and improve infrastructure performance.

The sector should also strive to replace engineering with digital engineering, using data to drive decision-making, the plan states.

An effective digital engineering environment would allow components to be shared between projects and allow governments to accurately model how infrastructure will operate in the future when sustainability, climate, resilience and public safety factors are considered.

Monash Art, Design and Architecture Director of Urban Planning and Design Professor Carl Grodach said the report has taken on an important new dimension in light of the protracted COVID-19 lockdowns.

“COVID will not dismantle cities as powerful, economic engines. They will endure the instability, just as they have with previous pandemics and other major urban shocks. The enduring lockdowns have distorted employees’ work preferences and influenced business decisions. These will change again as restrictions ease,” he said.

“Infrastructure Australia’s report highlights Australia’s infrastructure deficit and the lack of funding for essential community infrastructure, particularly in developing areas. The real challenge is developing both hard and soft infrastructure to accommodate a changing economy and workforce, including planning for different types of employment centres in both regional and metropolitan areas.”

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