In North America, InRoads and Geopak remain the software of choice for 90 percent of US Departments of Transportation, a majority of the Canadian Ministries of Transportation, and many municipal governments. Internationally, countless transportation agencies and engineering consultants tend to prefer MX or InRoads, now offered in a localised format and re-branded as Power Civil for Country, with “country” indicating the region for which it is localised.
Bentley acquired InRoads in 2000, Geopak in 2001, and MX in 2003. Since then Bentley has continued the development of these three premier civil engineering design product lines, each with 20-plus years of 3D modelling credibility on some of the world’s most intricate transportation infrastructure projects.
While we generally don’t differentiate among these product lines, we do recognise that each offers unique and valuable techniques, processes and workflows specific to user needs and disciplines. The products share common functionality; however, their distinctive characteristics are integral to what drives our users’ businesses and maintains the project productivity that engineers and designers demand and have come to expect from Bentley.
AEC: Maintaining three code streams must be a big challenge. How much cross fertilisation of technology goes on between the three tools and are there any future plans to consolidate the technology?
SC: Maintaining three code streams is a significant challenge. Bentley could have taken the simpler route, one chosen by some of our competitors in fact; however, our goal is to develop products that enable users to meet their business objectives. Starting from a blank piece of paper and defining a “new product” would have risked the many years that Bentley, and our users, have invested in developing refined, tested, and proven processes.
Bentley’s goal is to help lower users’ exposure to risk; save time, effort and money; and increase the value of project deliverables. We want to help users increase the quality of the infrastructure assets they are designing, constructing, and maintaining. Safeguarding users’ capital and manpower investments across all Bentley civil product lines is a non-negotiable requirement of our product evolution.
Bentley stays attuned to users’ concerns to identify the need for new capabilities. We develop that capability once and apply it to all three products, as evidenced by our new tools for data acquisition, geometry (as in roundabouts), and reporting enhancements. Superb technology – such as Quantity Manager, Roadway Designer, and our overlay and rehabilitation tools – that starts out in an individual product is cross-pollinated to the other products. Likewise, new technologies, like scalable digital terrain models (DTMs), are developed to serve civil as well as other verticals.
AEC: Both MXRoad and InRoads have been in use in some form or another since the 1970s / 1980s. How much have the products changed in this time and what have been the most recent innovations?
SC: MXRoad and InRoads have changed dramatically over the last 25-plus years, and specific enhancements made are far too numerous to mention for one product let alone three. However, significant milestones include the move to Windows, running inside MicroStation and AutoCAD, interoperability between what were competing applications prior to their respective acquisitions by Bentley, and integration with Adobe Acrobat and Google Earth.
Both MXRoad and InRoads have become more dynamic, interactive, and intuitive. Processing is faster than ever, even though data file sizes have grown with the increased accessibility to data sources – LiDAR for example. Built-in design checks and warnings help users identify potential problems at the earliest possible stage. Visualisation is no longer considered “nice to have”, but rather is often a prerequisite to winning detailed design work. Additionally, product integration with engineering data management and collaboration systems like ProjectWise becomes tighter with each release.
InRoads and MXRoad, as well as Geopak, leverage the combined experience and innovation of the now-combined development team. Bentley continues to enhance and support each product line, as demonstrated by the V8i (Select Series 1) and (Select Series 2) releases of the products, which include a range of tools and functionality.
Data acquisition tools, for example, enable users to import, reduce, map and manipulate data from multiple sources, including raw survey information, ASCII data, and LiDAR XYZ and LAS data. Users can work with large data sets without “tiling” surface data or taxing performance. They can drag and drop data into a “data tree” hierarchy to view any given surface or DTM and understand which data sources were used to build the model. In addition, with a simple right-mouse click, users can display and edit items and reveal context sensitive operations before saving data for immediate use in Bentley Civil products, or third-party applications where they are part of our users’ workflows.
For drafting efficiency, Civil AccuDraw, a civil- specific version of MicroStation AccuDraw, provides a precision drafting tool that anticipates user intent.
It streamlines drafting processes by supporting civil- specific conventions like stations and offsets, bearings and distances, azimuths, and more. As workflows can vary widely depending on the project, Civil AccuDraw offers users the flexibility to work in a way that best suits their needs.
Helping put designs in context, all Bentley Map functionality is included in all Bentley Civil design products, including Bentley Rail Track, our application for 3D design of rail infrastructure. Bentley Map functionality addresses the challenging needs of organisations that map, plan, design, build, and operate transportation infrastructure. It empowers users to add engineering precision to their GIS data or easily use existing GIS data in the engineering decision process.
Continuing the mapping theme, in the V8i release, Bentley provided the first single-point solution to publish geospatially located 2D/3D models directly to the Google Earth environment in MicroStation.
With Google Earth integration, the entire project team can gain a new perspective, via the ability to publish projects to the most relevant environment for review by a wider audience. At the touch of a button, users can publish DGN/DWG models from their desktop to Google Earth and zoom to any place on the planet.
Finally, in addition to the traditional tools within each of the Bentley Civil engineering design products, users can access the same in-context, smart design of 3D road corridors using Roadway Designer. This tool streamlines the complex development of every aspect of the roadway, in a single, parametric presentation.
Users can move along a corridor, interactively edit superelevation, compute end conditions, and calculate volumes to balance cut and fill. Benefiting from the immediate visual feedback, and accessing state-of- the-art design automation to promote conformance to standards, users dynamically design all roadway components in concert.
Components can include kerb and gutter sections, footways, asphalt and aggregate layers, slopes, and ditches. Users can easily modify and create these intelligent components – without programming – applying design constraints as part of a sleek 3D modelling process. Roadway Designer automatically creates surfaces for use when creating cross sections, performing volume calculations, or merging components to create a single design surface or model of an entire corridor to aid visualisation and rendering.
AEC: With the UK government cutting councils’ road budgets by £165m, how can Bentley software help those working within these tougher financial constraints?
SC: With the UK construction industry in a state of stress due to reduced budgets and workloads, margins are being squeezed as firms fight for the projects that continue. Companies need to become more efficient and competitive if they are to prosper in the current economic climate. At Bentley, with a viewpoint shared by the UK government, we believe a significant way to address these challenges is to work in a more coordinated and collaborative manner.
Collaborative work is a foundation base that can be built upon by additional organisational initiatives, such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) and Integrated Project Delivery (IPD). Numerous technical and professional challenges require consideration when applying BIM in the civil world, but the principles for sharing information and common modelling are equally applicable to building and civil projects.
BS 1192:2007, the British Standard that establishes a methodology for managing the production, distribution and quality of construction information, including CAD deliverables, uses a disciplined process for collaboration and a specified naming policy. Bentley, with ProjectWise Essentials for BS1192, is the only company with a data management solution that supports the standard. ProjectWise Essentials for BS1192 bundles ProjectWise with custom software add-ons, out-of-the-box ProjectWise configuration, installation and training to quickly get users up and running using ProjectWise and supporting BS1192 methodology.
Using processes and techniques that cut misunderstanding and duplication of work, and facilitate the early involvement of operators and constructors can lead to cost savings in the order of 15 percent on any size project. This figure was backed up in a recent HM Treasury report that pointed to savings of £600m being made on the London Olympic Project, and around £600m of anticipated savings on the initial cost estimate for High Speed 2 (HS2).
AEC: Where does Bentley see growth potential for transportation software, not only in the UK, but globally?
SC: In February 2010, Bentley announced the acquisition of Enterprise Informatics Inc., with its
eB Insight software, and Exor Corporation, with its information modelling software. These strategic acquisitions signalled the launch of our AssetWise platform and a new focus on value creation for owner- operators.
eB Insight ensures that asset information is governed, secure, controlled, and can be trusted – delivering relevant information in context to users and turning information into an organisational asset. Exor information modelling software provides for the management and operations of linear networks, including roads, railways, and water networks, as well as all components connected to them.
Bentley’s objective through AssetWise is to empower owner-operators to leverage the value of information throughout operations and maintenance, to take full advantage of information modelling and realise the true potential of “intelligent” infrastructure assets.
Bentley sees a tremendous opportunity – driven by advances in computing and information modelling – to substantially increase owner-operator return on investment through AssetWise. We are confident demand will grow with users continuing to gain new value as data reuse will always drive return on investment.
AEC: What challenges does the industry have in terms of interoperability? What role does LandXML play in this and how mature is this schema?
SC: LandXML has provided a significant and more generic means of data archival and exchange. However, like all preprocessor formats and processes, its limitations are driven by a basic principle that all data must be “dumbed down” to the lowest common denominator.
Design teams are often forced to execute projects in an IT environment that includes a host of software applications from several vendors, each with differing file formats. When using LandXML, as with any conversion process, there is a potential loss of efficiency and accuracy. Users of LandXML data may even be forced to accept compromised data as not every application understands the complex geometry encountered in high speed railway alignments. For Bentley or any vendor to provide anything near to complete interoperability, proprietary information has to be stored under custom definitions in the file, adding to the bloated inefficiency of this already heavy file format.
Bentley’s commitment to interoperability, however, was reflected in its early and continued support for multiple file formats like LandXML, DXF and DWG.
We believe with the introduction of the i-model (a container for open infrastructure information exchange) in 2010, and subsequent launch of our iWare Apps site in March of this year, that we have created the foundation for a new level of interoperability.
Bentley’s i-model is a digital container that enables users to combine disparate data, providing walk-through controls and automated clash detection information from the original design data. To facilitate interoperability, our new iWare Apps site (www.bentley.com/iware) provides fast and easy access to apps developed by Bentley, and other organisations, free of charge. Each is Bentley’s contribution to infrastructure professionals, allowing them to wield the interoperability benefits they deserve.
AEC: How has highway engineering benefitted from laser scanning and the ready availability of off the shelf digital terrain data?
SC: Laser scanning is not a new concept; however, technology advancements in scanners, digital imaging and computing mean accuracy is increasing as costs come down. This places large volumes of relatively accurate data at most engineers’ fingertips, and is bringing this technology to age for civil engineering.
Airborne scanning from fixed-wing and rotary aircraft make the acquisition of large-scale data, combined with digital imagery, common place. Recent advancements in mobile scanning mean we are on the cusp of seeing laser scanning for resurfacing and rehabilitation projects at the required accuracy. And, terrestrial scanning of bridges and other infrastructure assets, combined with digital imagery, brings structural modelling from as-built data to the screens of every designer.
It’s easy to see that laser scanning can greatly enhance the quality and speed of engineering, but another huge asset is increased safety. With laser scanning, we reduce the necessity of placing people in harm’s way to collect that last segment of data to complete the design. As we watch laser scanning and digital imagery reshape our industry, this may well be one of the most exciting times to be a civil engineer.
AEC: What is the future of road design software?
SC: Recent business trends reflect an increase in design- build and design-build-maintain projects; subcontracting by transportation departments and authorities; and the use of automated machine guidance requiring a complete 3D model. Ageing infrastructure means many projects involve the resurfacing, reconstruction or rehabilitation of existing highways. And the assessment of carbon footprints throughout design, construction and operation of infrastructure projects is growing.
At the same time, technology outpaces the industry’s ability to consume it. Traditional design- bid-build and linear- and paper-based workflows are quickly being superseded by dynamic, real-time, digitally-based best practices. Users are becoming more geographically distributed, while each has the possibility to deploy software specific to his or her discipline or function, and applications from a variety of software providers may be deployed across a project.
For the evolution of our civil products, Bentley evaluates each industry trend, challenge and opportunity. We see a growing demand for transportation software based on technology proven to work on projects of all sizes that supports established engineering practices and theory – software that leverages state-of-the-art technology to work in 3D and is dynamic, constraint-driven, intelligent, and intuitive.
These capabilities and more are available today and found in all Bentley civil engineering applications via Roadway Designer’s smart, in-context 3D design tools, offering the state-of-the-art roadway design automation. Roadway Designer is the only “battle-tested” technology geared to keep engineers in full control, meet their requirements, and accommodate the way they work. Developing this technology is only part of Bentley’s plan for the future; we see road design software going a step further and anticipating the engineers’ design intent.
By “anticipating design intent” Bentley does not mean that the software simply updates the road, railway or bridge design in the background without the interaction or knowledge of the user. For example, if the centre line of a road or railway is moved by 20, 10 or even 5 metres, and the software is allowed to update everything in the background, as engineers we must ask if it is safe to assume the engineering intent will be the same. There will be exceptions, but the answer will almost certainly be no. Instead, when software is designed with the engineers’ learned or acquired knowledge in mind, it can truly begin to anticipate their intent, reduce repetitive tasks and checking cycles, and/or warn if the “intent” is superseded or violated.
Bentley’s objectives will continue to save our users’ time, effort and money, improve the quality of the end-project deliverables, and protect their investments in software and services. Bentley is not new to this industry. We have the experience to know what really matters, and I firmly believe that as a company we will continue to lead where others follow.