With advanced technologies replacing pen-and-paper approaches across all industries, engineering and project management consultancy Royal HaskoningDHV South Africa MD Salani Sithole stresses that consulting engineering companies must find ways to embrace the era of digitalisation in their operations or risk becoming obsolete.
Royal HaskoningDHV is, thus, taking steps to foster a culture of innovation among its employees in a bid to drive the advancement of engineering design using digital technology. This has led to a number of developments in terms of the company’s methods and tools, and the solutions it can offer to clients.
Royal HaskoningDHV engineers are now required to divide their attention between client projects and the development of new digitalised design models. The company has also hired employees from complementary occupational fields – such as information technology specialists – to assist in driving in-house innovation. It has also partnered with companies that share its vision for advancement and can offer expertise and capabilities in areas that will drive progress.
“We have to look to the future and to designing cities for a younger generation that is highly adept at using smart technologies, and who are increasingly expecting to advance and benefit every aspect of their world. Digital innovation in infrastructure design and development is, thus, critical.”
Sithole notes that clients are increasingly eager to experience three-dimensional virtual simulations of their projects before committing to engineering designs, and this is placing pressure on consulting engineers to provide detailed proof that their solutions can meet all the client’s requirements.
For the past three years, Royal HaskoningDHV has been using I-Rooms, which provide a virtual interactive environment where the company can meet with clients and implement real-time changes during project reviews. Following the success of these rooms at the company’s offices in Umhlanga, Cape Town and Johannesburg, Royal HaskoningDHV is focusing on expanding its tooling by investing in HoloLens goggles, which enable the wearer to engage with digital content through holograms. Clients can walk through holographic representations of, for example, a building, station or airport and experience the environment as it will be once it is built.
“As all the aspects of the design are immediately observable through virtual designs and holographic representations, clients can sign off on them much quicker than before, fast-tracking the development of the project. A key benefit of digitalisation in the consulting engineering space is that design time is being shortened by between 20% and 30%.”
He also points out that virtual designs facilitate a more inclusive approach to project development, as clients can better visualise and understand plans and their suggestions can be readily incorporated into the design.
Royal HaskoningDHV is also incorporating smart technology into clients’ projects, drawing on Big Data and the Internet of Things (IoT) to enhance infrastructure plans and ensure that projects are devised in such a way as to predict and cater to the modern user’s needs. Sithole points out that workplaces are increasingly being designed to enhance efficiency, flexibility, safety and security through smart infrastructure, which moves away from the limits of local data storage systems and instead embraces advancements such as virtual desktops, tablets, phones and cloud-based technology.
Taking the concept of smart workplaces a step further, Royal HaskoningDHV is investigating the possibilities of designing smart cities. By linking with Big Data sources, such as global positioning system navigation providers like TomTom and Google Maps, and drawing on the behavioral information they offer, the company can produce solutions that are more efficient, effective and sustainable.
“We have four design criteria that any project must meet: it must cater to the requirements of the client funding the project and the stakeholders it affects; we must be able to add value through our involvement in the project; the solution we offer must be future-proof – able to stand up to the demands and trends of the future – and it must use materials in the most sustainable way possible.”
Sithole highlights that the opportunities for pairing Big Data and the IoT with city infrastructure development are vast and, with the company’s encouragement of innovative thinking, new ideas are constantly coming to light.
Some of Royal HaskoningDHV’s key achievements in this area so far have been the development of disaster management systems, such as an early flood-warning system that works through a cellphone application, which has been tested in Ghana and is now being marketed in South Africa.
Using Building Information Modelling – which provides a digital representation of the physical and functional characteristics of a building – the company can also run simulations to test the loadings of a structure against natural disasters, such as cyclones. He explains that this provides valuable insight into existing buildings, which can be used to pre-emptively identify unsafe buildings, and whether, when a cyclone threat is apparent, they will either be demolished or should be evacuated.
The company was also involved in the design of the bus rapid transit system, in Gauteng, which ensures that mass transit operates as efficiently as possible and can self-correct when running ahead or behind schedule.
Royal HaskoningDHV has also pioneered the way environmental effects of projects are understood by launching the world’s first digital interactive environmental impact statement (EIS). The new EIS uses accessible, interactive visuals to revolutionise the way the results of an EIA are interpreted and shared between all project partners, saving valuable time, accelerating decision-making and advancing stakeholder engagement.
“As technology improves in South Africa, we will continue to experiment in our design and strive to find ways to improve peoples’ quality of life through sustainable means,” Sithole concludes.