Life on the Open Road

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Bentley Systems recently released OpenRoads, an umbrella technology that forms the backbone to its civil design tools. Greg Corke caught up with Bentley’s Ron Gant and Bob Mankowski to find out more about the key features

If there’s one criticism that’s often levied at Bentley Systems it’s that it has too many products in its portfolio. At last count there were an incredible 150, touching pretty much every corner of the AEC market, from rail and rebar to point clouds and plant.

With acquisitions fuelling this software swell, there is often an overlap between products. A prime example is in civil design where Bentley owns three of the industry’s leading tools — MX, Geopak and InRoads — all acquired between 2000 and 2003, and all used to do a very similar job.

Parsons Brinkerhoff and Arup Joint Venture used Bentley Civil Software to create 3D models to ensure design quality, support coordination among project teams, and provide accurate data for construction set-out

While there has been some cross-pollination between the civils products over the years, by and large they have retained individual code-streams. Well, that was the case until Spring 2013 when Bentley added a new technology called OpenRoads to all three V8i SELECTseries 3 products. The seed was sown for Geopak, MX and InRoads to become one.

“OpenRoads technology is a common thread that runs through all of Bentley’s civil products,” says Ron Gant, global marketing director, civil engineering at Bentley Systems. “It really sets the tone of where you can see these products coming together — a common geometry, a common 3D modelling, a common design capability. A vast part of the products are identical across all three product lines now.

“It’s been something we’ve been working towards very carefully over a number of years,” he adds. “Bentley is always very concerned with existing users and being able to move those users forward with technology as painlessly as possible so that there is complete equity in all of the data that has been built up over a number of years.”

OpenRoads encompasses a whole range of features, ranging from tighter integration between survey and design, enabling users to work with any type of field data (survey, ASCII, GPS, LiDAR, contour maps, photogrammetric) to a new design intent capability that builds associations and relationships between civil elements. If a change is made to one object, related elements will recreate themselves based on the stored relationships.


But Bentley has also been careful to protect well-established processes. According to Mr Gant, OpenRoads also allows engineers to work in traditional workflows and using standards that have been developed and used for many years.

Dynamic Civil Cell technology

Dynamic civil cells are reusable 2D and 3D parametric designs that can adapt to suit new contexts. They are arguably one of the most important features of OpenRoads, not least because of their potential to simplify and streamline the design process.

According to Mr Gant, a civil cell is anything that you can re-purpose and use again and again and define with a set of constraints and relationships. Relationships can also be maintained between different civil objects. Move a junction and the other civil objects can move with it — a building pad, drainage pipes, or a ditch, for example.

The big news is that Dynamic Civil Cells can be created by anyone. Users do not need programming skills, as Bob Mankowski, VP of Simulation Product Management, Bentley Systems explains. “Geopak has Criteria (and it’s like programming) and MX has its input files. [Dynamic Civil Cells is] taking those sorts of concepts and evolving them to, we think, a more natural sort of environment, a graphical macro.”

Dynamic civil cells don’t have to created specially; they can evolve as part of the design process. “A designer can say, OK, this is a typical section for me, this is a typical intersection or a typical roundabout or transition and they can capture that as a civil cell,” explains Mr Mankowski. “And now it becomes a re-usable piece of design.”

It’s easy to place cells into new designs. The engineer simply needs to select key reference elements in the model. “Typically, say in an intersection, the reference elements are going to be the centreline of the main road and the centreline of the crossroad,” says Mr Mankowski. “The software then works out the relationships between the two new objects that you just identified and the rest of the geometry and design that you’ve captured in the civil cell.”

Over time, the idea is that engineers and designers will build up a library of reusable components to be used on multiple projects and shared across an organisation. To help users get started Bentley is providing some example libraries, which can be tweaked so users don’t have to start from scratch.

Design-Time Visualisation

One of the major features of OpenRoads is what Bentley calls ‘Design-Time Visualisation’. This isn’t for producing highly polished videos for public consultations or marketing. Instead, it’s all about putting visualisation directly into the hands of the engineer to aid the design process.

There are big benefits for workflow, as Mr Mankowski explains, “In contrast to say, taking your design data out to another product and assigning materials and doing all that stuff in a general purpose visualisation tool, we embed the visualisation capabilities inside the engineering tool.”

Swapping in and out of Design-Time can be done with the flick of a switch says Mr Gant with engineers able to toggle seamlessly between CAD and rendered model.

But it’s not just about pretty pictures. With Design-Time Visualisation it is possible to drive along a road in real time to visually assess the design in relation to sight distances, road markings, and signage.

From a workflow perspective Design-Time Visualisation may sound seamless, but it does require preparation up front. “There is some set up time that a CAD administrator or a CAD-savvy user would have to do,” admits Mr Mankowski, “But then the [design] team is enabled very easily so the materials are assigned through templates or a project library.”

Construction, operations & maintenance

OpenRoads — and the products InRoads, Geopak and MX — are primarily focused on the business of road and rail and site design. However, in line with Bentley’s mantra of maximizing the reach of data (or ‘information mobility’, as CEO Greg Bentley puts it) information produced in the design stage is ripe for use in other phases of the lifecycle.

“We’re creating these information models and then seeing that information used in other lifecycle phases — in construction, for example, with machine guidance and control, or through operations and maintenance,” says Mr Mankowski.

“We have our iModel technology that Bentley has been working on for several years now to provide a very rich container of, not only graphic information, but business information — real geometric information — as a way of moving that information through the phases of the lifecycle,” he adds.

For construction, the OpenRoads applications are able to produce optimised 3D models that link to Trimble, Leica, and TopCon, the major manufacturers of the automated equipment that guides bulldozers and excavators.

“We’ve done a lot of work in that area,” explains Mr Gant. “A lot of ability to QA your models as you produce those models for construction. We’re really trying to get us to a point where we provide, to the field, construction-ready models that can be loaded on equipment. We have quite a number of firms that have embraced that technology.”

Looking to the future Bentley is developing new workflows for information-rich models to be transferred into the operations of the facility. Whether it be for road or rail type operations and maintenance, tools like Bentley AssetWise will provide a full lifecycle of information, says Mr Gant.

“I think our civils business may have been a little slow in adopting this over the years, but we realize that design is only a fraction of construction and construction is only a fraction of operations and maintenance, so the big dollars really happen out there in the operations and maintenance side of things,” he said.

“We want to create living breathing assets that when we get ready to maintain those, 10, 20 years down the road that we have, not just models, but information that will allow us to maintain and rehab those intelligently.”