Hatch delights customers with overwhelming design reviews

Hatch provides engineering, projects, construction, business advisory and operational services to the mining, metals, energy and infrastructure industries.

Maurice Tayeh is Hatch’s Global CIO and the inspiration and energy behind AssetXR. This virtual reality solution manages projects through planning, review and execution through design and engineering teams in different offices. AssetXR is made possible with the help and expertise of Infosys, a digital services company and advisory leader.

Building bridges between the physical and digital world

Hatch’s projects involve multiple engineering disciplines: civil engineering for foundations and structures, mechanical for motors, compressors, and pumps, electrical for motors and transformers, and chemicals for materials and fluids. The projects could be a treatment plant, refinery or railway bridge.

Hatch needed the ability to conduct immersive design reviews with contractors, clients, and employees. Traditionally, a project review might involve twenty to thirty people flying to a central location and assembling for two weeks. The same group of people would repeat the review exercise a month later—an exhausting and time-consuming way of doing project reviews that was not possible during the pandemic.

Infosys has developed a virtual reality (VR) solution in the cloud for Hatch that will enable it to perform design reviews while fully immersed in virtual design. The solution uses headset devices such as Microsoft HoloLens and HTC Vive. I reviewed Microsoft’s second-generation HoloLens augmented reality glasses here.

Another requirement is the ability to review the progress of projects over time.

Infosys has been selected for its prior knowledge in immersive technologies

Infosys was named as a partner for this project primarily because of its previous experience with immersive technologies. Infosys has used the Infosys Metaverse foundry. The Infosys Metaverse Foundry is essentially the collective knowledge of Infosys business areas combined with expertise in immersive design. The Infosys metaverse foundry also has strong partner ecosystem relationships, including Microsoft Azure.

A digital twin reduces review time from weeks to hours

A digital twin is a virtual 3D model that accurately reflects physical assets. A digital twin makes it possible to visualize assets, track changes, and perform analysis over time.

Digital twins receive continuous updates with data from physical assets with multiple inputs, including Internet of Things (IoT), sensors, drones, cameras, light detection and ranging (LiDAR), and point clouds.

A point cloud is an outline of an object in three-dimensional space. For example, in laser beam scanning of a building, each virtual X, Y, and Z coordinate position represents an actual point on the wall.

The Bentley iTwin platform is at the heart of the solution. The iTwin platform is a purpose-built open platform for infrastructure digital twins consisting of APIs and libraries of infrastructure assets.

The back-end database chosen for storing project designs, CAD drawings, and 3D assets is Bentley’s iModelHub, Bentley’s service for storing Building Information Modeling (BIM) plans in a generic format called iModel. The app uses “iModel.Js”, an open source framework developed by Bentley to access projects on iModelHub using a Javascript framework and acts as a server, serving BIM data to virtual reality devices such as HoloLens or HTC Vive.

The Microsoft Azure cloud hosts the solution. Bentley Systems has a close alliance with Microsoft that combines Microsoft Azure IoT Digital Twins and Azure Maps with Bentley Systems’ iTwins platform.

The front end is a custom application developed using the Unity3d game engine. The server serves the content using Google Protocol Buffer via WebSocket, which ensures continuous communication between the server and the Unity application.

As mentioned earlier, Hatch also wanted to show a simulation to see how the project evolved, essentially adding the fourth dimension of time. The 4D time dimension is part of the digital workflow. Inputs such as construction strategy, work breakdown structure, schedule, costs, resources, supply chain logistics, progress, and construction variables (people, materials, equipment, false works, space) would generate predictable project delivery performance.

As schedule changes and field conditions occur, the solution provides visibility into project and design data, making it quick and easy to communicate and analyze the impact of changes on the entire project delivery process. Users can compare construction strategies to assess the feasibility and efficiency of different scenarios, and derive insights toward the best possible construction outcomes.

Depending on the access permission, the user will see a list of projects. Upon selecting a project, the user can load the 3D model associated with that project, walk around, fly around, and teleport to different locations on the 3D model to perform a 1:1 scale review of the design.

wrapping

We’re just scratching the surface of the immersive technology’s potential. We just need to rethink our old cell phones compared to our smartphones today to get a sense of what would be possible.

One of the challenges is getting comfortable with glasses without feeling claustrophobic. I was one of the first people to use Microsoft’s HoloLens publicly. It took us a while to get to this point, but the glasses are going to get a little slimmer in the future. If Apple gets into the fray probably next year, I think we’ll see the market go into high gear.

The immersive industry is still emerging, with companies developing rapid operations with standardized nomenclature and workflows still in the making. Using the example of Hatch, you can see a mixture of new working methods with traditional video, animation, and game workflows.

The economic benefits illustrated by this example and many other use cases are compelling. Today’s products developed in one location are rare, with globally distributed design the norm. The recent trend of working from home adds more of the challenge of effective collaboration between design teams. Bringing teams together reduces delays in getting all participants in one room, eliminates travel costs and time lost due to travel, and allows issues to be addressed and resolved quickly.

Hatch primarily uses technology to improve time to market for customers. Presumably, the ability to show and tell also improves the customer experience because one unintended consequence of the project was to present the Hatch sales team with a way to differentiate themselves in the market from the competition!

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