Creating a Digital Copy of the Port of Antwerp-Bruges

Digital Twins are a game-changer in decision making, as they provide a virtual representation of an object or system. And when it comes to the logistics sector, having greater certainty on all aspects of your operations is invaluable.   

Located 80 kilometers inland from Belgium’s coast on the North Sea, The Port of Antwerp-Bruges offers the fastest and most sustainable connection for delivering goods deep into the European hinterland. With connections by rail, road, river and canal waterways – and as the 14th largest container shipping port in the world, Port of Antwerp-Bruges handles more than 289 million metric tons of freight per year and more than 20,000 sea trade ships, double the volumes it handled just 20 years ago.

A Port of the Future

With a clear vision for the future, underpinned by the use of digital technologies, the port is host to the world’s first smart port digital twin. The overall goal is to build and maintain a digital twin of assets including sensors, autonomous drones and smart cameras to use for inspections and oil spill detection.

As a longstanding user of Autodesk’s AEC collection solutions for planning and designing, the port is well versed with implementing digital workflows. But for Peter Rollier, BIM Office Manager for the port, understanding how processes are working can optimise the entire construction lifecycle for better asset management in the future.

But for multidisciplinary teams collaborating on engineering and construction improvement projects at the port, accessing accurate data soon became an issue. “We struggled ensuring we had the latest and most up-to-date information. And we struggled with making sure contractors were providing the data we needed for operational maintenance,” says Peter.

One Central Source of Truth

The port’s increasing priority became uniting data and on-site activity. Major construction projects have been shaped by the evolution of BIM in recent years. When Peter began a university degree to learn more about Building Information Modelling (BIM) some three years ago, the future became clearer. Peter discovered that the smartest way forward would be to establish ways of working that put the BIM model of the port at the centre. 

“We were already using Autodesk Construction Cloud’s BIM 360 platform to make all available project information accessible anytime, anywhere,” says Peter. The digital twin of the port is fed by the solution’s captured data, which in turn provides various real-time data sets that can be transformed into actionable information for internal and external stakeholders. This ultimately means that the port can move from having situational awareness about its operations to having predictive insights in order to steer their decision-making.

Introducing Autodesk Docs as the common data environment (CDE) for the port has allowed Peter and the extended team to have one central repository for all project information and a shared understanding of where data must be stored.

Autodesk Docs, introduced as the common data environment (CDE) for the port, has allowed Peter and the extended team to have one central repository for all project information and a shared understanding of where data must be stored.  Using BIM workflows, which are certified to BS EN ISO 19650-2:2018, means that all projects are set up using the same core principles for folder structure, file naming, and information sharing. 

For Peter, being able to clearly outline the port’s policies when it comes to data sharing from the outset has changed the way the team works with its supply chain partners. Adhering to information sharing practices is set out using Autodesk Construction Cloud and incorporated into work contracts too.

Accessible Data equals more Informed Decisions

“The accessibility of data makes decision-making much easier,” Peter explains. And the teams can communicate clearly in a more time-effective way.

“We use the model as the centre of our discussions in weekly meetings. Our team members can visualise what is happening much more clearly, and we can collectively make decisions earlier, rather than last minute changes after elements have already been installed.”

Leveraging a centralised model to share with the data analytics team means the port can create predictive maintenance schedules. And working with project collaborators in a designated space that supports information exchange has replaced the need to waste time gathering information fragmented across the port’s supply chain.

“Using Autodesk Docs means the port has an invaluable level of transparency, which also reflects in our project quality too. We’ve been able to reduce the number of errors and issues by better model coordination that can be identified in the pre-construction phase of our projects,” shares Peter.

Peter and the team use the approval workflow within the solution which helps to add a layer of accountability between the project collaborators at the port. And whilst the digital vision is coming to fruition, some of the biggest challenges for the port have been ensuring people adapt to the new processes. “We have to bring our people on the transformation journey and overcoming resistance to new ways of working takes time,” reflects Peter.

Sustainability Gains for a Better Tomorrow

Not only does digitalisation offer greater predictability, but it also helps the port meet its sustainability ambitions. The port can design for disassembly by proactively capturing all asset information for maintenance schedules throughout the project lifecycle while considering environmental factors. Design teams can explore how they can create assets that do not harm the environment when they come to the end of their lifecycle. 

“Our overall goal is to ensure we can understand the impact of the infrastructure on the environment, the local people living near the port and the wider world,” reflects Peter. And by capturing and embedding meaningful data, the world’s first smart port digital twin can lead the way when it comes to creating a more sustainable and efficient smart port of the future.

Ben De Swaef

Construction Cloud Account Executive for Autodesk Helping BeLux Construction to innovate, collaborate and gain competitive advantage in the era of connection.