Alternative contractual arrangements such as PPPs as well as mass production facilitated by prefab could hold the key to incentivising the use of innovative methods and technologies in the development of today's built assets.

Speaking at the sidelines of the Bentley 2015 Year in Infrastructure, Raoul Karp, VP Structural and BrIM at Bentley Systems, said the use of alternative contractual arrangements such as private-public partnerships (PPP) and owner-operator solutions is spurring the adoption of innovative methods for the development of complex infrastructure assets.

“I think also where you have these new contract types – such as public-private partnerships and owner-operators, then the whole team development is incentivised by the end result of the project,” said Karp.

“When we see these new kinds of contracts for more complex projects, members are incentivised by the overall outcome of the project, as opposed to just producing a design before they hand it over to the next set of people to built, and then another set of people to operate it.”

According to Karp, the creation of incentives for improving performance during the part or all of the lifetime of an infrastructure creates a profound shift in the way designers and engineers approach projects.

“In design we don’t think too much about optimisation of performance and the minimisation of operating costs – we’re thinking about the built asset as opposed to the the operating asset. But when you benefit from the operation of a project, it compels you to consider different aspects of the design,” he said.

“It means that you as an engineer don’t just care about doing it as fast as you can, producing your drawings and then you’re done. You care about the actual built asset and how it’s going to operate, because you’re going to get revenue out of the actual operation of the asset.

“You’re going to invest more time upfront to optimize your design if you’re going to benefit downstream from operations and construction of that asset.”

Karp points to PPPs and owner-operators as two highly effective methods for incentivising the creation of optimised design and engineering solutions to complex infrastructure challenges.

“For bridges and roads, you might have a private-public partnership where the partnership rolls out the project and the private entity gets to operate that road – perhaps there are tolls on that road and they get to benefit from those tolls during a period of life,” he said. “There’s a recurring revenue stream back to the project team, and they’re incentivised to make sure that the operating costs remain as low as possible.”

Owner-operator arrangements, particularly for infrastructure projects with comparatively long operating lives, also provide strong incentives for engineering optimisation.

“Where you are designing and constructing and operating the asset, there is huge incentive to spend the actual time in design to minimize lifetime cost of the asset or the operating cost of the asset,” Karp said.

“Crossrail is a perfect example of that, where it’s got a lifetime of use ahead of it, and if you can save five per cent on the operating costs over the life of that asset every year, you can save millions and millions, or potentially billions of dollars.”

Karp also points to the mass production of built assets, which Aladin Niazmand of Health Project International recently noted will be greatly facilitated by advances in prefab construction, as another major spur to the adoption of innovative design and engineering methods.

“Buildings right now are one-off, bespoke creations, as opposed to mass produced, and I think that’s one of the key reasons that it’s taking so long for innovations such as genetic algorithms to be adopted during the design process,” said Karp.

“Genetic algorithms have been around for a while. Certainly in the academic space, they’re already widely used in aerospace and the automotive industry. Wherever you’re mass producing something and you really need to optimize your initial design, genetic algorithms can help you extract every last ounce of value.”

Karp notes that under circumstances where built assets lend themselves to mass production, the use of innovations such as genetic algorithms is strongly incentivised.

“One of our finalists at the 2015 Bentley Year in Infrastructure have created a single design that they’re using in 20 difference places around the world, and in places such as China you’ll see the same design employed repeatedly perhaps 50 times,” he said. “Whenever you have situations like that, you certainly want to optimise your assets, because you’re going to reap huge cost savings across each of the build outs.”