Why do you need a Digital Twin?
OpenTower iQ outline the use cases and share practical tips on making digital twins core to towerco business models
Ahead of TowerXchange Meetup Asia 2022, we sat down with Apurba Tribedi from OpenTower iQ to exchange ideas on why towercos need digital twins. To learn more about all the ways that towercos are digitising operations make sure you sign up today.
TowerXchange: Firstly please can you introduce Bentley Systems and OpenTower iQ – where exactly do you sit in the ecosystem and are you able to share some of the clients that you work with?
Apurba Tribedi Senior Director of Tower Products Bentley Systems: Bentley Systems is the world-leading provider of infrastructure software. Our mission is to provide innovative software and services to design, build, and operate the world’s infrastructure – sustaining the global economy and environment for improved quality of life. We are also a global leader in providing open and interoperable digital twin cloud services. Architects, engineers, geospatial professionals, constructors, and owner-operators from around the world use Bentley’s software solutions and digital twin cloud services to design and maintain their engineering assets.
OpenTower iQ, from Bentley Systems, is the only comprehensive digital twin cloud service to maintain the entire lifecycle of telecom towers. The platform acts as an asset’s single source of truth by easily ingesting and aggregating all relevant data, including PDF reports, CAD drawings, design models, and drone imagery. OpenTower iQ leverages modern technologies, including artificial intelligence and Bentley’s established tower analysis program to automate operational activities like inspections, inventory reconciliation, engineering analysis, and report generation. Owners, carriers, and service providers can collaborate on the OpenTower iQ platform to streamline operational costs, improve service levels and gain critical decision support. Bentley’s clients and partners include telecom professionals worldwide, including tower owners and carriers and their involvement was critical in shaping OpenTower iQ.
Bentley’s roots are in engineering, how does this inform the way you approach the topic of digitalisation?
If we look at Bentley’s history, Bentley’s flagship product, Microstation started as a CAD modeling, drafting, and visualization tool. Today, Bentley’s solutions are used in almost all aspects of the world’s infrastructure asset lifecycle. Now, coming to digitalization, or as I like to call it digitization, has its roots in high-fidelity data. If we take a step back, all engineering software relies on engineering inputs, and these inputs can come from different sources, including field inspections, engineering reports, architectural drawings, CAD models, etc. In one way or the other, these documents are used for engineering. So, digitization was a natural extension to enable automation and interoperability among different disciplines and tools.
OpenTower iQ provides a platform to integrate all relevant data and build the source of truth of a tower asset. It empowers telecom professionals to focus their efforts on business and not spend time gathering and filtering data from different sources. The obvious benefit is the gain in efficiency while reducing costs. As towers go through several changes throughout their lifecycle, preserving historical data and maintaining one source of truth is the key. So, digitization is a must for this fast-moving industry to serve its customers and maintain the communication infrastructure.
There has been a lot of discussion around the use of digital twins in the tower industry but the term “digital twin” can be intimidating to some people. What are we actually talking about with a digital twin and what is it trying to achieve? What are common misconceptions?
Although the term digital twin is around for a while, the adoption of the technology is very slow. As you mentioned, it can be intimidating to some as it may seem to disrupt the norms. The earlier definition of a digital twin, which defines the digital twin as a replica of a physical model, didn’t fully explain the benefits of the technology. It led us to believe that a 3D as-built model, generated using photogrammetry is a digital twin of that asset. Some even believed that a CAD model of a physical asset is the digital twin of that asset. However, at Bentley, a digital twin is more than just a 3D model, a digital twin is rather an aggregation of Informational Data, Operational Data, and Engineering Data that can tell a complete story of an asset. Photogrammetry definitely plays an important role in the process of digitization. However, those models must be contextualized to understand an asset’s as-built information and to reconcile that information to update the asset inventory.
I keep hearing about the cost, new investments, people losing jobs, etc. However, in reality, there is nothing radical about it. Yes, it can be disruptive, but the benefits far outweigh those workflow adjustments. If we consider the current labour shortage, the ever-increasing demand for data, and rapid 5G expansion, we must work efficiently and leverage technology as appropriate. So, I believe, we must work together to bridge this gap, where technology providers can work with thought leadership to leverage digital twin technology. Industry groups like TowerXchange can certainly help to study and promote the benefits. We must reach out to professionals to help them embrace this new technology to get their job done quickly and efficiently.
Where do you see digital twins delivering value in the tower industry? For which use cases do they show the most promise?
There are many benefits that come to my mind. However, if we need to pick one, I shall focus on asset inventory. In our experience, having a good-reliable asset inventory is the first and possibly the most important step toward digitization. Every workflow related to towers is somehow connected to the asset inventory. For tower owners, the priority is to maximize revenue by collocating carriers and for that, they must have information regarding space availability and remaining tower capacity. For carriers, they must understand what equipment exists on towers. As we know, design intent, like azimuth, tilt, and equipment position often don’t match reality. While installing, installers often face unknown challenges as the data designers relied upon differs from reality.
So, the obvious use case is to capture reality (as-built data) and then update the asset inventory through data reconciliation. OpenTower iQ automates this process, by recognizing equipment, mounting frames, platforms as well as general measurements, like tower height, top of the appurtenances, location, tilt, azimuth, etc.
Combine this asset inventory use case with several other use cases like predictive structural analysis, new site build, equipment swapping, inspections, document generation, asset monitoring by sensors, etc., and the value proposition by digital twin is obvious.
Bentley has experience in helping various sectors develop digital twins, what lessons can be shared from sectors where the use of digital twins is more established?
Bentley being a leader in providing digital twin cloud services believes that the technology is here to stay. We have seen the evolution from 2D drafting to 3D modeling to BIM and now to Digital Twin. However, unlike other industries, the tower industry is ultra-price sensitive, so we must take baby steps and build trust among telecom professionals. The very first step is to prove that the technology works. So, we have just published a whitepaper documenting the accuracy of the extracted data through digital twins. The next step is to study and prove commercial success in the form of return on investment (ROI). As the technology may seem disruptive to some, we need to be patient and educate the professionals through case studies. These are some of the suggestions but the key is to work together to realize the benefits.