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Introduction of the digital methods of Building Information Modeling (BIM) in the design of rail infrastructure equipment aims to significantly increase the efficiency and quality of design and planning processes. TÜV SÜD subsidiary SIGNON Deutschland GmbH and its project partners have already developed a first concept for the preparation of a data model for rail and track systems and infrastructure equipment.
The “RIMcomb” research project is designed to develop new computer-aided methods for model-supported multidisciplinary planning of rail systems with a focus on infrastructure equipment. The objective of the project is to significantly increase both the efficiency and quality of planning and design processes. These methodical and structural changes to existing design and equipment processes will form the basis of the future style of collaboration, communication and exchange of data and information within the project.
Project partners in the RIMcomb project, which is funded by the Bavarian Research Foundation (Bayerische Forschungsstiftung), are TÜV SÜD subsidiary, SIGNON Deutschland GmbH, as well as TU München, AEC3 and TÜV SÜD Advimo.
Reasons for introducing the Building Information Modeling (BIM) method included the typical problems encountered in project realisation, such as equipment collisions, cost increases and delays in schedule, which, in the past, had mostly resulted from the fact that various service sectors or disciplines were involved in the planning of rail infrastructure. In the project planning and realisation phases, various design and construction steps must be combined within and between the individual service sectors. As the vast majority (90 %) of rail infrastructure projects are based on existing discipline-specific infrastructure, on-site examinations are required as a minimum where data about these existing systems are inadequate. These examinations may involve track geometry as well as infrastructure equipment installed on site. At present, this information (e.g. position, signal type etc.) is entered in planning documents by hand. Preparatory work of this kind is extremely time-consuming and labour-intensive and involves a high risk of error right at the start of the project.
In addition, the current practice in planning operations of infrastructure equipment still mainly involves the production and exchange of 2D designs with little computerisation, resulting in an inefficient process that is vulnerable to faults.
An additional problem in this context is the fact that existing planning information is generally only captured in technical drawings (2D plans), yet planning for the various service sectors requires the usage of a diverse range of plan types, which include topological representation of the track network, abstract representation of track systems and 3D representation of design details. However, when plans are produced and saved purely as drawings, interconnections and contexts are lost. Changes to plans must be added manually, frequently causing inconsistencies and errors. Coordination of the various specialist planners (service sectors) is an area which is currently particularly lacking in adequate cross-disciplinary data models and software solutions, of the kind that are becoming increasingly standard in structural engineering projects – at least those on a larger scale.
RIMcomb therefore aims to develop an integrated IT approach to support collaborative multidisciplinary design of rail infrastructure equipment. At the core of this approach is a vendor-neutral data model, supporting description of track systems and infrastructure equipment and permitting visual representation at various levels of abstraction, from 2D track topology to highly detailed 3D representation. To this end, the system will transfer and apply methods taken from BIM. Based on this data model, a platform will be designed and developed that ensures consistency throughout the various visual representations and permits collaborative planning on the basis of synchronised technical models. For the comparison of process models, new methods for transferring model changes (“patching”) will be developed. In addition, procedures for describing and testing the rules valid in equipment planning will be established to apply semi-automated analysis in planning processes. Correct recording of the existing systems is an important cornerstone of planning. Given this, one of the further focal areas of research in the project concerns the continual improvement of methods for producing 3D models from point clouds containing added semantic information generated from laser scanning or photogrammetry.
Owing to its complex and multi-dimensional nature, the project was broken down into work packages (WP) that built on each other in a time sequence.
By spring 2018, the situation in the research project was as follows:
The analysis of planning and maintenance processes was completed. The project parties prepared a template and filled it by entering the analysis results. Documentation was done in the form of a process map.
The concept for the preparation of a data model for track systems and rail infrastructure equipment has now largely been completed. Preliminary work in the form of existing data formats has been examined. Examination of the data volume in control, command and signalling technology is still in progress due to the very extensive documentation framework of the PlanPro data scheme of DB AG. The fundamental requirements for the data model have been established and successfully verified – both conceptually and with the help of specific examples – for an extension to include the IFC format. In addition, the project partners investigated the extent to which IFC Alignment can be used for positioning elements at the track axis. IFC is short for Industry Foundation Classes, and is a data standard used to exchange data between the various software programs in the construction industry. For special disciplines, such as Road, Bridge or Rail, special formats aligned to the structure in question are being developed. The development of IFC rail is still in its infancy and is also being investigated within the scope of the RMcomb project.
Furthermore, a concept for data entry and model generation has been developed. For this purpose, they have already established and successfully implemented prototypes of methods based on both real data and digital design documents to identify rail infrastructure objects. The project partners also developed a concept for the identification of objects in 3D point clouds, and have already examined and tested initial approaches to producing the required point clouds using photogrammetry.
Building on the current project status, the partners will begin to address the further topics in work packages 4 to 7 from now to 2020. All project stakeholders appreciate the value of the progress of knowledge already in evidence and its continuous further development achieved through the consolidation and exchange of information. SIGNON Deutschland GmbH has already been able to add value by introducing the BIM method to its planning unit and making use of the intermediate outcomes determined to date.
Overall, the innovative research project is not only resulting in positive economic aspects for project activities, but is also delivering sound findings which can be used for developing strategic measures and a vision for the future.