Costain and Microsoft to drive digital twin use in infrastructure

Costain has joined forces with Microsoft to accelerate the use of digital twins in the design, construction and operation of infrastructure.

In a statement, Costain said it brings “the infrastructure engineering knowledge, deep client insight and digital integration expertise,” while Microsoft brings “secure cloud, machine learning and powerful data analytics capability”.

Nathan Marsh, Costain’s chief digital officer, explained: “This strategic partnership will help clients provide better value services to their customers by deploying digital twin approaches that enable safer, better, faster, greener and more efficient infrastructure. The digital versions of project delivery schedules and the physical assets Costain creates with Microsoft are optimised with high-quality data insight and foresight that will improve delivery and operational productivity.

“Clients are able to do things such as virtually and remotely test designs, weather scenarios, incident response, carbon reduction schemes, maintenance and upgrade programmes with enhanced speed and accuracy. This helps ensure right first time delivery, improved return on investment and minimises disruption to customers.”

Matthew Higham, chief digital officer at Microsoft UK, added: “By working together, we can democratise the power of data and digital skills to help transform not just the built environment and the construction industry, but the other industries they serve. As we move to a more sustainable future, being able to measure and effect intelligent digitally-empowered transformation at pace is pivotal to success – one which this partnership can bring to life.”

Anglian Water experience

Microsoft is already supporting Costain on the Anglian Water Strategic Pipeline Alliance (SPA), alongside other partners Jacobs, Mott MacDonald Bentley and Farrans, to develop an enterprise-ready digital twin for the new strategic pipeline.

The series of up to 500km of interconnecting pipelines and associated infrastructure will move water from areas of surplus in Lincolnshire to the drier south and east of the region.

The digital twin will optimise delivery and management of the water network throughout the lifecycle of the pipeline, delivering benefits to Anglian Water in capital expenditure during project delivery and operational expenditure in the future operation of the pipeline.

Costain is leveraging Microsoft’s cloud-based software, Azure, to integrate systems and business functions for improved enterprise data management, helping to enable AI and automate processes that will aid better decision making as well as drive continuous improvement and innovation.

According to Costain, its knowledge of complex infrastructure delivery and client operations is ensuring the right physical asset and operational data is fed into the digital twin and that the benefits are realised through things such as:

  • improved efficiency and reduced cost of delivery as the pipeline can be assembled, installed, tested and commissioned in a virtual environment before the delivery phase begins;
  • reduced maintenance and renewal costs as issues can be identified before they affect operations, underpinned by proactive planning;
  • significant reduction in embedded carbon and energy consumption during operations;
  • clearer insight into operations so events such as drought or flooding can be better planned for; and
  • enhanced engagement as customers can see how their behaviour affects water demand and supply.

The development of a digital twin is part of Anglian Water’s wider digital transformation plans. According to Matt Edwards, head of enterprise data at Anglian Water: “Water networks are incredibly large and complex systems. Digital twins give us the opportunity to connect assets and equipment all the way along those systems, so we understand how much water we’re pumping into the networks, the level of water in storage reservoirs, and how we control the flow through pressures and valves. Having all of the sensors on the assets communicate with each other in an ecosystem of digital twins will ultimately allow us to provide an even better, optimised, 24/7 service to all of our customers.”

Appointed onto the new SPA in June 2020, Costain is providing a range of integrated services including strategic programme management, digital technology expertise and complex programme delivery for the supply-side strategy of Anglian Water’s Water Resources Management Plan.

Once complete, the contract will see new systems and assets within a digital framework working together with existing networks to provide Anglian Water greater flexibility in how it manages water supply and growing demand.

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