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Digital twin solutions drive underground construction

Digital twin

Digital twin technology is set to transform construction and maintenance of tunnels and underground structures.

Digital twin solutions developed by hyperTunnel, a new British Infratech start-up, offer a new way to build, repair and enlarge tunnels and underground structures, reinventing the wheel in terms of how tunnels have been built for the past 130 years.

The company aims to transform underground construction by building tunnels faster, with less risk, and in a more economical and environmentally friendly way than is currently the case by using tunnel boring machines (TBMs).

hyperTunnel is applying technologies that have been proven in other industries and are currently not being exploited and integrated to their full potential in construction. These include digital twin solutions, robotics, 3D printing and digital underground surveying, supported by AI, VR and swarm robotics.

The company’s digital twin solutions are being used in mining, underground assets, construction, utilities and transport industries.

“There is a genuine awakening going on in relation to the use of robots, digital twins and AI in construction,” said Jeremy Hammond, co-ceo and co-founder of hyperTunnel. “It’s not exclusive territory to hyperTunnel of course, but our advanced integrated package is now established as offering what the tunnelling and construction industries are aiming for in many existing and new applications.”

Patrick Lane Nott, hyperTunnel’s director of engineering, has 15 years’ experience of vehicle modelling and simulation in motorsport, having worked with Williams and Lotus F1 teams, among others, and most recently with MTS Systems Corporation on its simulator project, working in close collaboration with McLaren Applied Technologies.

“The construction industry is still quite far behind automotive, motorsport and aviation and hasn’t yet enjoyed the benefit of embedded systems,” said Patrick Lane Nott. “We still see contractors building to drawings manually with no other input. Even where plans are detailed, they are interpreted differently and people tend to do their own things anyway. 

 “We believe that absolutely everything has to come from the digital twin. It requires discipline and there is no room for personal judgement. We see some big technology players working on digital twins from the smart infrastructure and maintenance side of things – designing in sensors to monitor traffic flow, activate traffic signals and monitor the asset, for example. But we do not see much happening in the infrastructure design phase where simulations can be run over and over again during the build process, allowing architects and builders to adapt as they go. There have been many buildings where a good digital twin would have picked up errors in the design phase.

 “hyperTunnel’s high definition surveying and modelling techniques bring a whole new layer of information to the end user that simply hasn’t been possible before. Our uniquely sophisticated digital twins therefore can pinpoint where foundation repairs are needed, be used to assess temperature and seismic variations, and to spot water ingress into the buried asset for example. We can set up web-based dashboards with numerous parameters and alerts to check all the variables in real-time. Just like a race car!”

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