Gwinnett County Explores Benefits of Digital Twins at Pump Station
As a leader in the water industry, Gwinnett County Department of Water Resources (GCDWR) aims to provide superior water services at an excellent value. The multi-award-winning utility has been recognized both statewide and nationally for excellence in water production, wastewater treatment, infrastructure development, and customer satisfaction. GCDWR operates and maintains two water production facilities; three water reclamation facilities; more than 200 pump stations; and nearly 8,000 miles of water, sewer, and stormwater pipes that provide essential services to more than 900,000 people each day.
To build a virtual representation of a site, information is integrated from a variety of sources, including lidar scans, subsurface utility locating, high-resolution drone imagery, and traditional survey for ground control. The resultant point clouds, 3D surface meshes, and survey data offer a true and current as-built, often including abandoned and unknown infrastructure not present on plans. This data can be utilized in future engineering design and construction at the site to help avoid delays and cost overruns.
Water and wastewater utilities provide a public service that is operationally, economically, and environmentally fundamental to the nation. On top of challenges related to maintaining and upgrading a vast network of mains, pump stations, and treatment facilities, GCDWR has an aging operations and maintenance workforce. Outgoing staff often possess decades of institutional knowledge of system operations and asset locations at GCDWR facilities. Managers and new staff need modern tools to operate, monitor, and locate assets for maintenance once personnel with embedded experienced-based proficiency and awareness retire.
GCDWR has invested nearly $1 billion over the last two decades to ensure that the water processed and later returned to the environment is among the highest quality in the country. GCDWR has begun requiring and receiving engineering designs in a 3D building information model (BIM) format. The county was interested in better understanding how the models could be leveraged in its asset management program to help meet the operations and maintenance challenges.
At the same time, KCI Technologies was investigating and advancing virtual solutions for integrating 3D models with operational systems in ArcGIS Enterprise as part of a corporate Innovation Incubator program. The objective of the initiative was to pilot the development of a digital twin, which is a virtual spatial and operational replica of infrastructure and assets. More than just a model, a digital twin provides real-time monitoring, analysis, and reporting of ongoing operations by replicating functionality in a cyber environment with data feeds from the corporeal asset.
KCI offers turnkey expertise in a wide range of disciplines. With a committed, employee-owned team, the firm designs, plans, manages, inspects, installs, assesses, constructs, and otherwise addresses a vast array of client needs related to the built and natural environments. Services are tailored to the needs of its clients, providing personal service from project initiation through completion.
GCDWR and KCI engaged in a joint pilot project to assess the ArcGIS technology-based digital twin development process and value of the solution. This process began with lidar scanning and surveying Gwinnett's wastewater pumping station in one day, including the structure and mechanical, electrical, and wastewater assets. From the point cloud, KCI developed a 3D BIM that is spatially accurate to within one inch using Autodesk Revit and tied it to traditionally surveyed control points for a real-world location. Assets were attributed with their unique IDs and relevant data such as make, model, and serial number. The model was then converted to an Esri ArcGIS 3D multipatch feature class format. In the GIS, assets and sensors were related to their functional systems and facility—achieving an easy-to-navigate 3D vertical hierarchy not present in most asset management systems. Hosting the information on the ArcGIS Online cloud allowed county staff with security permissions to navigate and interact with the 3D GIS in a web browser or ArcGIS mobile apps, eliminating the need for each user to install dedicated desktop software.
Moving from a model to the implementation of a true digital twin requires overlaying real-time data and storing it in the cloud for live and historical analysis. This information can be integrated from an organization's existing investments in hardware and software, such as Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, and maintenance management software. Additional resources, including 311 or customer relationship management (CRM) software, weather data, and crowdsourced information from social media, can enrich the information in the 3D GIS cloud. Using the county's SCADA system, the GCDWR team incorporated pressure, flow, temperature, vibration, and volume sensor outputs from its equipment into an Azure Data Lake. KCI asset management consultants then paired the 3D GIS model with a web-based Microsoft Power BI dashboard to provide a dynamic display of the performance of each asset.
An ArcGIS technology-based digital twin enables operations managers and staff to locate and monitor assets within a rich 3D spatially accurate environment. It can also be incorporated with work management systems to identify the location and specifications of assets prior to visiting the site. With the data available through a web browser, digital twins enable access to the information 24/7 on a user's platform of choice, including desktop, tablet, or mobile devices. The dashboard metrics provide valuable insights that can be used to reduce maintenance issues, extend life cycles, and achieve new levels of optimization.
Throughout the pilot project, GCDWR staff gained insight into how to leverage the benefits of 3D GIS to enhance their asset management programs. Of particular interest is the ability to improve safety and maintenance efficiency through expanded situational awareness and increase asset knowledge with accurate data, measurements, and the ability to view an asset's relationship to the overall processes.
In turn, KCI provided a new digital twins solution leveraging lidar, survey technology, BIM, and ArcGIS Enterprise.
The project demonstrated the numerous capabilities and benefits of the technology and serves as a road map for applying and scaling similar virtual asset management initiatives for other facilities as well as complex industrial and operational plants in a range of markets.
The model that was produced by KCI Technologies during this project proved that this type of information is not just for design engineers anymore. The model, as detailed and as complex as it is, can be made available in the field to frontline employees who benefit from it the most.