The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 has some encouraging boosts for upfront engineering and design work but also includes opportunities to expand use of construction and lifecycle digital twins, according to software maker Bentley Systems.  

In a recent conversation with ENR, CEO Greg Bentley said the legislation offers a chance to get serious about building out infrastructure digital twins.

“Even with lots more money to spend, you can only marginally add to our capacity with new greenfield assets—so the requirement is to better utilize what already exists,” he said. These assets need to be documented, and digital twins offer a way to make sense of this wealth of data, he added, following the company’s Year in Infrastructure conference.

Bentley said he sees a distinct shift with the new funding law: "What's different this time is it's not limited to highways and bridges, the usual targets of investment in the US. It truly is unprecedented investment in order in broadband and rail, including high-speed rail. It's a new opportunity."

Beyond public spending, Bentley said he expected a large amount of private investment money, normally skittish about infrastructure due to project uncertainties. “Schedule and cost risks are what make only a few projects bankable for private investment,” he said. “That’s where digital twins can help—increasing visibility into project status, narrowing the variance of outcomes.”

Bentley added that winners of the company's Year in Infrastructure awards could indicate a trend. "What I take away ... as I look at the finalist projects, 36% of [them] credit reality modeling, so that means they're using it,"  whether "a drone flight or cameras and sensors and so forth. That would have been zero five years ago."

Keith Bentley, the software firm's chief technology offcer, concurs on the potential for greater adoption of these technologies.

“The opportunity for digital twins centers around what we make more valuable, more resilient, more sustainable. We can add a lot of value there,” he said.

The one-two punch of pandemic disruption and a large federal infrastructure spending bill may loosen some resistance to migrating to digital twins. “When things are going relatively well … it can be hard for proponents of change to get a hearing,” he noted. “But the past two years have seen great changes … maybe it’s time to try something different.”