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Tunnel vision: Design software streamlines tunnelling projects

Tunnel vision: Design software streamlines tunnelling projects

As Australia braces for a growing urban population and increased demand for streamlined transport solutions, tunnelling is expected to become a trillion-dollar industry over the next five years, according to Bentley Systems’ Burak Boyaci.

With the introduction of Bentley’s OpenTunnel Designer to the market, Burak hopes to empower the transportation industry with technology that will improve the efficiency and productivity of tunnelling projects. Especially when the solution is estimated to cut tunnel design time in half.

Burak Boyaci talks tunnelling projects.
Burak Boyaci, Director of Product Management at Bentley Systems.

According to Burak Boyaci – Director of Product Management at Bentley Systems – the implications of streamlining the design and management of tunnels with a dedicated software solution are huge for Australia’s transportation sector.

“Tunnels alleviate congestion in busy urban areas and serve as major veins at the heart of the Australian transportation industry,” he says. “Which is why investing in better solutions for modelling and mapping the delivery of tunnelling projects is a top priority right now for transportation engineers and regulating bodies.”

“Even a small increase in the efficiency of tunnel design is going to save millions, if not billions of dollars, to project owners, to industry and to stakeholders, such as the taxpaying public.”

A complex piece of engineering design, tunnelling projects present unique challenges to project teams that must consult with a range of different engineering experts in the planning phase. Before a tunnel design can be approved for construction, the project will go through multiple design iterations; simulations; and rigorous testing and analysis; before any ground is broken. In addition to the core geological and structural engineering requirements, tunnel engineers need to map connecting elements such as ventilation, lighting, acoustics, fire safety and drainage.

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“Traditionally, tunnelling project teams have been siloed in their respective areas of expertise ­– the geotechnical engineers, the structural engineers, the architects, the designers and the data collectors,” Burak explains. “As a result, a lot of critical information on projects gets lost in translation through cross platform communications between stakeholders and traditional design software that is too generalised to suit the requirements of tunnelling projects.”

A few years ago, Burak and the Bentley team recognised there wasn’t a dedicated software solution for tunnel design. This became a key focus for them and became a part of the portfolio of civil engineering design products his team manages. “This gap in the market was clarified after we interviewed a number of tunnel, structural and civil engineers working in organisations of all sizes – small to large,” he says. “And the common problem they raised was a distinct lack of software for tunnelling design.”

In fact, not only were engineers using software that was not application-specific for tunnelling or linear transport systems, but they were relegated to modifying software to become more compatible with their engineering requirements. To align with tunnel engineering requirements, engineers were going outside their typical roles to write their own script commands in software to make the models intelligent and parametric.

Burak took these findings back to Bentley’s product development team and pitched the idea to develop a dedicated software for tunnel design. The company invested in the idea, and a software development team was put together, led by Burak

Dave Body talks tunnelling projects.
Dave Body, Senior Industry Strategy Manager at Bentley Systems.

Dave Body, Senior Industry Strategy Manager at Bentley Systems adds: “We wanted to overhaul conventional workflows and offer a complete package solution for tunnelling projects that would improve efficiency and save on time and labour costs.”

To achieve this, Dave emphasises that a multi-disciplined approach was required.

“We didn’t want OpenTunnel Designer to just be a sophisticated 3D modelling software, we wanted it to be a complete project management solution and a collaborative platform that would facilitate open communication between every facet of a project team,” Dave says.

The final product saw OpenTunnel Designer come together as a multi-functional, cross-compatible solution that connects teams with a range of engineering and design tools and relevant project data through a single streamlined workflow.

The software generates intelligent, parametric models that can be used to create design deliverables by directly integrating industry standard software such as LumenRT, OpenBuildings Designer, OpenRoads Designer, and OpenRail Designer. Additionally, OpenTunnel Designer offers interoperability capabilities with Leapfrog, PLAXIS and ProStructures, therefore providing a seamless and enhanced productivity experience for all disciplines engaged within the complete tunnel design and analysis process.

Once fully integrated, these programs become responsive to each other in alignment with a project’s data repository, allowing engineers to model their projects off geological and structural data in real-time and share project data with stakeholders in a common environment.

Model and Detail Rebar Reinforcement
Model and retail rebar reinforcement.

“Where once engineers had to rework various aspects of their projects in separate programs to realign them with each other when changes were made, OpenTunnel Designer is the ‘missing link’ that connects all the other pieces of a project together,” enthuses Burak.

“By combining geological modelling, geotechnical analysis, and structural modelling into one solution set; we have created a system where all the different tools talk to each other and refer to a single data repository, therefore eliminating lengthy workarounds, drawn-out changes to designs and any rework.

“With a single click, every team member can achieve multiple iterations of a project model, and as more data is accumulated, models will update automatically,” he furthers.

Perform Geotechnical Analysis
Geotechnical analysis.

“This means no more manual fixes or cumbersome communications between stakeholders. OpenTunnel Designer should cut design time in half, compared to traditional tunnelling projects.”

In addition to an abundance of efficiency gains, a centralised data environment with a seamless, interoperable workflow will also enable companies to mitigate and reduce risk from the beginning of every project, according to Burak.

“The fully integrated aspect of the software will help to prevent critical errors in the planning phase of projects by allowing for quick, informed decision making and accurate, consistent results,” says Burak.

After a recent trip to Auckland and Sydney for the official launch of OpenTunnel Designer, Dave gathered that quite a few major players in the transportation sector are already excited about what the specialised solution means for civil infrastructure.

“There are currently some large-scale tunnel projects going on in ANZ and l had some great conversations with people about OpenTunnel Designer’s capabilities and what that means for the future of civil engineering and infrastructure projects,” says Dave.

OpenTunnel Webpage.
OpenTunnel Designer.

“One of the byproducts of OpenTunnel Designer’s cross-functionality, is that it lends to so many different transport and infrastructure applications.

“There was talk of how the software could be utilised on other types of infrastructure projects such as pumped hydro and utility tunnels.

“This is what is exciting to our customers right now and they are keen to see what doors it will open for the industry,” he concludes.

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