Digitalization of Infrastructure Can Help Municipalities Manage Assets

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June 8, 2022

In 2019, CSA Group launched its Graduate Scholarship Program to support students enrolled in a Master’s program whose research is related to standards. They want to introduce the recipients of the 2021 scholarship and tell you how their research can contribute to the advancement of standards.

Aging infrastructure presents a challenge for many towns and villages in Canada. Often operating with limited resources, municipalities have to balance maintenance and repairs of the existing systems with building new infrastructure to accommodate the growth in their communities. That brings the need for more efficient and cost-effective management of infrastructure assets to the forefront.

The topic caught the interest of John Akana, Master’s Student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Windsor. He saw that many municipalities use very traditional methods of collecting data about infrastructure conditions and process the records manually. That makes managing the assets very tedious and time-consuming, and integrated, proactive planning almost impossible. John noticed that recently, the Building Information Modelling (BIM) method and infrastructure digitalization had shown promise in addressing infrastructure management issues and wanted to explore the approach.

John set out to develop a methodological framework for integrated infrastructure management, bringing together asset management principles as defined in the ISO 55000 standards and the BIM-based predictive maintenance planning method. He selected municipal stormwater infrastructure, critical in protecting communities from flooding, to demonstrate the feasibility of his approach.

The first step in John’s work is improving data retrieval and management and creating a tool to visualize available data. Such a tool would take the available system information, including the location of the pipes, type of material used, date of installation, maintenance details, and so on, and use them to create a virtual 3D model of the infrastructure system.

“The CSA Group scholarship is quite unique – it helps students get more familiar with standards, connects them with what is happening in the industry, and supports exploring of important areas. So thank you very much for this initiative.” – Dr. Rajeev Ruparathna, Assistant Professor, University of Windsor

But John wants to take his tool one step further. Combining the basic system-level data with information on the local environmental conditions and other activities in the system’s vicinity, he hopes his tool will be able to predict the future state of the stormwater infrastructure and the risk of its failure. This could support informed decision-making, allowing municipalities to prioritize investments in the most-at-risk areas and plan ahead for future maintenance needs and budgets.

John is currently working on developing a genetic algorithm with multi-objective optimization to facilitate the decision-making process. Moreover, his digital model would allow for data flow from the physical to the digital assets, i.e., the digital model could be updated based on the conditions observed on site. With such a robust digital shadowing tool, integrated infrastructure management and implementation of proactive strategies at the municipal level could become much more efficient and effective.

John’s work also has a lot of potential in the context of smart cities, explained Dr. Rajeev Ruparathna, Assistant Professor at the University of Windsor and one of John’s thesis supervisors. This research can provide a framework for digitalizing the current civil engineering infrastructure, which will be needed to implement smart cities in practice, and support future standards development efforts in this emerging area.

“Thanks to CSA Group for this opportunity. It helped me understand the importance of standards and how they can help enhance safety, quality, and reliability, and improve the way we work.” – John Akana, Master’s Student, University of Windsor

In the process, John learned a lot about standards and how they are developed. He realized there is much more in them than just a set of rules and guidelines – they bring important guidance and best practices that can help improve the systems and their operation.

Learn more about CSA Group’s Graduate Scholarship Program.

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