Digital Twins: The Present and Future of Bridge Construction and Maintenance

Digital twins are part of one of the most important technology trends in the bridge construction and maintenance industries.

They encourage communication and collaboration, reduce costs, make it possible to improve designs, and help build better and longer-lasting bridges. Digital twins are becoming central to infrastructure decision-making because they provide current information about development projects, including their status and risks. Engineers use digital twins to track projects throughout their life cycles, conducting analyses that can improve bridge performance. Construction firms leverage them to improve project planning and management and to identify issues. Municipalities depend on them to make better-informed maintenance choices.

This article will explain what you need to know about digital twins to use them effectively.

Digital twins: The basics

A digital twin is a virtual representation of a physical asset. It includes data and other information that helps engineers and others understand and model its performance and track its health over time.

The best contractors, construction firms, and road and bridge owner-operators use digital twins to manage their construction projects more effectively. A digital twin also makes it possible to explore the ramifications of design decisions early in the development process and throughout the construction and use of an asset. 

The value of a digital twin doesn’t end when the bridge is completed. It continues to be helpful after the bridge is in use. Owner-operators can watch data from tracking devices connected to the Internet of Things, such as drones and other monitoring and surveying equipment, to see changes to the bridge as it handles traffic and is impacted by weather and other real-world conditions. This information helps municipalities and other owner-operators prioritize maintenance or upgrades because they can better understand what needs to be done and its value over time.

How digital twins can be used

Digital twins can provide significant value to simple bridge and road development projects. However, they become even more valuable on complex initiatives involving car, truck, pedestrian, and rapid transit use and multiple bridges, roads, entrance ramps, roundabouts, and other features.

A three-dimensional digital twin enables designers, engineers, and other bridge construction professionals to see how all the elements and features of a project interact with each other. Using models helps bridge development professionals identify issues before they happen, make projects better, and fix problems that show up after a bridge is in use.

In most cases, digital twins not only improve bridge projects but also speed the development process and help find ways to get work done more cost effectively. 3D twin models can also encourage communication and collaboration among all stakeholders, including municipalities, engineers, construction crews, and utilities, because everyone involved in a project can see a current and highly realistic model of the bridge and other assets all at the same time.

Digital twins in action

Digital twins are being used on many prominent bridge projects all over the world. One notable example is the design and development of an emergency replacement for the 1,182-meter Morandi Bridge over the Polcevera River in Genoa, Italy. The collapsed bridge closed three rail lines, and vehicular travel in the city became extremely challenging. The collapse had a serious negative impact on the lives of people in Genoa and on local businesses. Building a replacement structure as quickly as possible was critical for the city’s long-term economic and social health.

To ensure the accuracy of the design of the replacement bridge while staying on schedule, designers and engineers created a digital twin of the viaduct to streamline workflows throughout the design and development process. They included detailed construction and operation information in the model. By doing this, they avoided costly and time-consuming rework during design, development, and construction. The twin also encouraged communication and collaboration on the project, something that doesn’t always go smoothly on Italian building sites. The result of using a digital twin on the Morandi project was a safe and cost-effective replacement structure that could be completed quickly.

The final word on digital twins

The introduction of digital twins and other virtual design and construction technologies in the bridge development industry has transformed how projects get done. It shortens development time, helps identify engineering issues early on, encourages critical communications, saves money, and enables bridge owners to better understand the condition of their structures over time and whether they’re performing as anticipated. This will enable them to make changes to bridges that can prevent minor issues from turning into major ones. 

If you’re not maximizing the use of digital twins and other virtual 3D tactics to the fullest, it could be a great time to invest in 3D software and learn how to use it. It could pay off in greater efficiency and better results over the long term.