The story of CUSP, a partnership between Atkins and Cardiff University to develop an advanced digital twin programme, shows how the idea of technology becomes reality. Nick Tune, digital engineering director at Atkins, discusses the journey

We talk about BIM and digital engineering as a new thing but, in reality, the technology has been there for decades. What we now realise is how powerful that technology’s application can be in helping us to overcome construction’s most pressing challenge – productivity.

CUSP, Atkins’ partnership with Cardiff University to develop an advanced digital twin programme, shows how the idea of technology becomes reality.

A long legacy

Back in 2008, Cardiff University established a research centre on Engineering Informatics, with Professor Yacine Rezgui as chair. At t digitally enabled construction sector. Although it wasn’t called “digital twin”, the work this research centre undertook was, in effect, construction’s first digital twin project – a project called KnoholEM, part of the European Union Research Framework Programme.

The premise was to reduce the energy consumption of buildings by using BIM coupled with the exploitation of near real-time energy performance data in order to simulate and devise scenarios that could maintain comfort in the buildings for occupants while minimising energy consumption.

At the time, the UK government BIM programme hadn’t yet been established, and BIM Level 2 hadn’t yet entered our consciousness. But work had already begun, and the spark of BIM and digital twin had been lit.

One small step for BIM

Following on from KnoholEM, Cardiff University won another EU Framework project to utilise BIM and real-time data on a district scale to reduce energy consumption and maximise the use of renewable energy. Even in 2020, this kind of project would be seen as hugely innovative.

The thinking developed in these first BIM projects was brought by Professor Rezgui and his team to support Welsh Water, Milford Haven Port and others in improving the performance of their assets. A BIM star was born.

From kernel to corn

So, why has it taken so long to bring this amazing research to market? The simple answer: the industry wasn’t ready. And it’s no surprise really; construction has historically been slow to adopt new technology as our contracting models, and the risk and rewards mechanisms within them, don’t always encourage innovation.

It was only in 2011 that the UK construction strategy was launched and the UK BIM Task Group was established to put BIM at the heart of the industry’s plan for transformation. Even then, BIM wasn’t mandated for the public sector until 2016. The sector has been wrestling with what BIM is and how it can improve productivity for decades. You could still say our BIM journey has only just begun.

So, while we were learning to adopt BIM – and that means best practice Information Management, not just 3D CAD – Professor Rezgui and his researchers at Cardiff took all their know-how and developed a platform that consumes BIM, GIS, historic and live data and structures it via a semantic ontology that means the data has relationships to allow it to easily be queried. With the help of Atkins, they created CUSP – a programme we can all use to better manage our assets.

CUSP incorporates not just data, but machine learning and AI algorithms that learn the performance of the asset. By adding the parameters you wish to manage, for example “I want the temperature to be between 19-21C in a building and I want to maximise the use of the renewable energy my asset produces”, CUSP learns your asset’s performance and provides the most optimal way to operate the asset based on those requirements.

And here is the best part: because it’s built on a semantic ontology, it can easily be lifted and shifted to different use cases, such as improvement in the maintenance of a highway or optimisation of a rail network.

Fast forward

If we fast forward to 2020, the industry is well and truly on the BIM (Information Management) journey and digital twins are increasingly recognised as a way to improve the delivery and management of assets.

Our industry is now primed and ready for CUSP. Over the last decade, it has been tested and improved by the team at Cardiff so that it is ready to really drive a step-change in digital transformation and most importantly, the productivity of the sector.

Atkins has partnered with CUSP because we believe now is the time to bring it to market. If we want to transform infrastructure deliver for improved productivity and whole-life value, we need to be investing in technology like this, that will truly allow us to deliver better outcomes.

This next phase of the industry’s digitisation is the most exciting. It’s where we’ll see programmes like CUSP drive value and shift the productivity dial up a notch. The more we embrace these technologies, the more we’ll see smarter decisions made and predictability improved.


Nick Tune

BIM, digital twin, CUSP,

Digital engineering director


+44 20 7121 2000



YouTube: Atkins



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