The need to manage vast quantities of data, simultaneously improving operational and invested capital efficiency, is increasingly driving integrated water service managers to use advanced digital instruments, such as digital twins. These are virtual models designed to accurately represent a physical object, offering a reproduction of specific segments of the behaviour of the water system, from catchment and water distribution to sewage and treatment services.

But what does their implementation require? And, most importantly, are there benefits in the assessment of the status of infrastructure and in planning and design activities, for example through Building Information Modelling (BIM)? Renewable Matter asked Michele Tessera, Chief Information Officer at Gruppo CAP, the utility that manages the integrated water services of the Metropolitan City of Milan through in-house provision.

A change of perspective

“Managing the integrated water service of the Metropolitan City of Milan means administering over 7,000 kilometres of aqueducts and 7,000 more of sewers, not to mention the treatment plants,” Tessera explains. This network is located underground and could have been called “invisible” before the digital transformation. “The precondition to activate technologies like digital twins and BIM is, first and foremost, certainty regarding the status of the network, the physical resource that is to be represented virtually. Therefore, between 2013 and 2020, Gruppo CAP invested almost 7 million euros to map both its aqueduct and sewage networks using ground-penetrating radar and geographical, geometric, and topographical surveys. The digitalised networks were then uploaded to a Geographical Information System or GIS.”

In addition to the required investments, the challenge of digitalisation required a change of perspective in terms of business organisation and upskilling. “In the past, when a technician carried out maintenance, they would record the operation locally, in a notebook, as opposed to a computer. For our work to be decentralised, integrated, and to be updated in real-time, we currently use approximately 600 tablets. This allows our technicians to intervene while having access to information that they themselves contribute to update in an accurate and timely manner. Suffice it to think, for example, of the possibility of geolocating a fault,” says Tessera.

Digital twins, AI, and predictive maintenance

Having already gained access to a three-dimensional, complete, and digital representation of its managed assets, in 2021 Gruppo CAP was able to deploy digital twins in BIM-based design (specifically by using Autodesk and Esri), a collaborative model based on the digital representation of the construction process and the interoperability of information. “Two years ago, our engineering business unit set up an internal office dedicated to BIM and digital twins, which started constructing digital twins of our networks. In our new sustainability plan, we aim to reach 30 digital twins by the end of 2024 and to digitalise the entirety of our assets by 2030,” Tessera continues.

“Using big data analytics, with data from different types of data lakes and databases, we have the opportunity to use our digital twins on confirmed data, sourced from almost 4,000 sensors installed across our networks. Thus, systems can communicate directly with our control room and the digital twins come to life, adapting to the needs of our management activities. Finally, to give an example of how we use algorithms based on artificial intelligence, throughout 2024, thanks to NRRP funding, we will be able to launch the implementation of a DSS system. This will equip Gruppo CAP with a Water Management System software that can be linked to our control room to acquire raw data and carry out predictive maintenance on the network, relating particularly to water losses,” Tessera concludes.


This article is also available in Italian / Questo articolo è disponibile anche in italiano


Images: Gruppo CAP


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