SNC-Lavalin has built a digital twin of Vancouver’s Canada Line transit system, a company first they say will improve maintenance efficiency and reduce downtime for the public.
“If you asked 10 people what digital twinning is, you’d get 10 different responses. What I say is digital twins are virtual representations of a system,” said SNC-Lavalin’s Ryan Versteeg-Biln, director of asset management.
“But the key component here is that it’s fed with all the live data you have available about that system and then uses that live data to perform analysis and help you make better data-driven decisions in real time or near to real time.”
The digital twin allows SNC-Lavalin to track the state of various aspects of the Canada Line track and associated systems, effectively plan for any future work that needs to be done and even predict and circumvent potential issues.
The project marks the first time SNC-Lavalin has created a digital twin of a brownfield site, that is, an existing infrastructure system. It has been in the works for at least 18 months.
The digital twin isn’t entirely a virtual map of the Canada Line. Much of the twin is a large collection of data points that SNC-Lavalin superimposes onto a map of the line, Versteeg-Biln said.
“All that being said, we also wanted a 3D image of our guideway where the tracks run.
“It’s a very restricted access space but very critical for our operations. That’s where all the tracks are, all our switches are. We really need to make sure that we are using the time that we have in the guideway most effectively,” he said.
Unexpected situations arising from the guideway could bring service to a standstill, causing people to miss work and even flights as the Canada Line connects with the Vancouver International Airport.
The Canada Line was built in the early 2000s with no notion of digital twinning in mind.
“So, we actually had to go in and use what’s called a LIDAR scan or laser scanner system to map the guideway entirely to create that 3D environment.”
The digital environment is run using the Unity game engine which has been used for the development of popular video games including Pokémon Go and Cuphead.
Having a digital twin provides many benefits, high among them is the fact SNC-Lavalin staff don’t have to be physically onsite to do all their work which can greatly improve efficiency and time management.
“The trains run 21 hours a day, which means anything that we’re doing on the tracks has to happen within a two-hour window at night.
“With this 3D map it’s a lot easier for our contractors and our technicians to plan work. They know the environment they’re going into; they know exactly how much space they have to position or stage equipment in the guideway; they can even take measurements before going in,” he said.
“We can even import 3D models of trackwork components that we want to install and check whether or not they fit or if there’s any issues that are going to come up.”
It also improves safety.
“Anything we can do to remove activities from that night shift is not only better for efficiency. It’s a lot safer,” Versteeg-Biln said. “It’s the most dangerous part of the system for our workers, to be going onto the subway tracks in the middle of the night.”
The older method of co-ordinating parts through paper blueprints leaves more room for error. Even small variations on what is needed in a new or replacement component could mean shifts wasted, service delayed and money lost.
“Before the technology was implemented, there were several instances where challenges occurred which could have been resolved more quickly and efficiently with the digital twin technology,” he said.
“With the 3D model of the system, we can now drop (a part) into our virtual environment and do a digital dry-fit, correcting the problem before it occurs and saving everyone time and money.”
The digital twin will now be a permanent part of SNC-Lavalin’s Canada Line operations, constantly being updated and never truly reaching a finished state, Versteeg-Biln said.
“You only find new capabilities that you want to build on, new capacities you want to add on, and it should become the living information backbone of the Canada Line.”