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Founded in 1855 with more than 24 campuses serving nearly 100,000 students, Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) is the state’s largest public university and has been ranked a leader in higher education for more than 150 years. The entire education system encompasses more than 23,000 acres and maintains close to 2,000 buildings and structures statewide.

To control costs and more efficiently manage and operate the huge number of facilities, the university realized that using BIM and GIS datasets to create a digital model would not be enough. The college set out to integrate the enormous amounts of asset, financial, space management, maintenance, project, and BIM data into a 3D reality mesh, creating a virtual campus model.

This virtual 3D campus would act as a single interface into the numerous data sources the school relies on for daily and long-term operations and ensure that facility maintenance personnel could access the asset data to perform their jobs effectively. The project team decided to implement the virtual campus initiative at the school’s main campus, University Park in State College, which comprises 945 buildings and structures spanning 79 acres and occupied by 46,000 undergraduate students.

To timely and efficiently capture images and develop a precise reality mesh of the numerous buildings, assets, and surrounding area, the team needed advanced reality modeling technology. Compounded by an additional serious data integration issue, the project required a collaborative, interoperable framework to integrate the disparate and disconnected datasets from the university’s custom enterprise data systems into the 3D virtual model.

Given the sheer size and number of structures and assets on the University Park campus, using traditional reality-capture technology such as 3D laser scanning was not a viable option. It is time consuming to capture the buildings and surrounding area and requires a large amount of work to stitch together separate models as a whole model. Using Bentley’s ContextCapture photogrammetry software simplified the process and enabled the team to quickly and cost effectively generate a highly detailed, geospatially accurate 3D reality mesh from digital aerial images.

A manned Cessna aircraft was flown approximately 1,000 feet above ground, and with a handheld high-resolution camera, the flight team captured almost 2,500 photos within two hours of flight time. The team used ContextCapture to process the images, and, relying on the automated capabilities of the software to create contextual content, the team produced a 3D texturized reality mesh in less than two days.

The generated campus model is a large, 3D scalable mesh that includes detailed representation of each campus building, including enclosures, auxiliary structures, façades, hardscape, and landscaping elements, enabling more informed decisions regarding structural maintenance and reducing time necessary to survey existing conditions for retrofit projects. With 3D viewing capability in relation to the surrounding area, the reality mesh provides an understanding of spatial constraints prior to maintenance work, minimizing risk and improving safety.

Precisely detailed and geospatially accurate 3D reality meshes of
campus facilities were generated from digital aerial images
through ContextCapture photogrammetry software.

Interoperability facilitates data integration

The reality mesh generated by ContextCapture provided only one data source within the 3D campus model. To fully leverage reality modeling as a solution for asset maintenance and facilities’ management, the virtual model needed to incorporate disparate asset, facility management, and other datasets residing in different information systems and stored in numerous formats.

Penn State currently used a computerized maintenance and management system (CMMS) to store, manage, and query data related to assets and work orders focused on maintaining the campus assets. cWhile each piece of data contained attributes of building name and number, the data was not associated with geospatial information, which made it difficult for facility managers to picture where the data is located and hard to enable additional planning tasks related to location requirements.

According to Craig Dubler, facility asset management program manager at Penn State, “The Office of Physical Plant (OPP) must rely on CMMS data as well as accurate locations to dispatch technicians. To date, there is a disconnect between CMMS data and accurate locations.”

The OPP provided the project team with GIS shapefiles representing the boundary of each campus building, as well as access to the CMMS data to incorporate into the reality mesh so the model ultimately could be used to improve asset management and maintenance efficiency. Bentley’s iModel Transformer enabled the integration of the work order data from the CMMS with the building shape files from the GIS, resulting in a cohesive, composite iModel without programming through rules and scripts defining how disparate types of information are related.

The combined iModel was then integrated with the 3D reality mesh using MicroStation. Because both data sources were geo-located, the reality mesh overlaid the integrated data files. Leveraging Bentley’s interoperable reality and information modeling technology, the team implemented a successful integration framework to produce a rich 3D virtual campus model, providing a better spatial interpretation of maintenance tasks.

Connected data environment optimizes asset management

To improve asset management and maintenance activities, the project team tied all crucial information into a comprehensive 3D reality mesh using MicroStation, which allowed stakeholders to search and query work order data using built-in query functions. The work order data files containing the query results can be selected, resulting in a highlighted display of the corresponding buildings in the virtual model that satisfy the search criteria.

Using ProjectWise as the common platform for communication enables the model to be viewed and accessed through a web browser. Bentley’s project collaboration software enables facility managers and other stakeholders to share documents that are associated with work order data, such as work order request forms, and generate a hyperlink   

to the document, providing easy access to these documents when querying in MicroStation.

Working in a connected data environment using Bentley applications to manipulate the virtual model offers facility personnel the ability to visualize accurate locations of work orders, accelerating response time and improving performance.

“Each year, Penn State University responds to over 70,000 calls for maintenance and produces over 46,000 work orders across our University Park campus,” Dubler said.

With a single, intuitive interface, a user can select a building within the 3D model and pull up information about a job, the status of a work order, and the party responsible for the work. Facility managers can interactively move within the model to achieve desired maintenance information, for more efficient maintenance personnel distribution and scheduling, optimizing life cycle asset maintenance and management. Using the integrated 3D campus reality mesh within a collaborative environment enables real-time monitoring of campus operations, allowing better information into the hands of facility managers and maintenance staff.

Extending the scope of reality modeling

“The Virtual Penn State initiative using ContextCapture, iModel [Transformer], and ProjectWise to create an accurate and complete model of the campus and overlay CMMS data has provided both initial and potential benefits for maintenance activities for the Office of Physical Plant,” Dubler said.

Penn State’s 3D reality mesh is much more than a means for accessing previously recorded data about its assets. It has the capability to provide asset data in real time, setting the groundwork for enabling workers to obtain up-to-the-second information about buildings and structures.

Although the reality mesh was integrated with facility data for this specific project, it also can be populated with other data sources for use in cases ranging from energy efficiency and environmental sustainability analyses, to generating master plans for future facility, transportation, utility, and security plans. Based on the successful use of the model for more efficient facilities personnel distribution and asset maintenance, the university is considering connecting its building automation systems and security systems to the 3D virtual model. In the near future, the reality mesh could offer access to current room temperature or show whether a security sensor has been tripped. This comprehensive reality modeling solution not only benefits campus facilities management but also empowers the university to be proactive and extend the value of its campus services across all applications and throughout the infrastructure life cycle.


Information provided by Bentley Systems Incorporated (www.bentley.com).

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