Lifecycle Modelling For Highways
Local highways are one of the UK’s most essential assets. But with competing pressures on budgets, how do highways managers demonstrate the true level of funding required to look after such a complex and varied asset and safeguard their investment programmes into the future? One approach that many highways asset managers employ to that end is lifecycle modelling, but what are its origins? And how exactly does it help highways engineers today?
A (Short) History of Lifecycle Modelling
Lifecycle modelling has its roots in the field of engineering, where it has been used for many years to analyse the performance and cost implications of engineering assets over their entire lifecycle. Though it has no defined start point, it is believed the origins of lifecycle modelling can be traced back to the 1950s, when the concept of lifecycle cost analysis was first developed by the U.S. military as a way of evaluating the cost-effectiveness of different weapons systems.
Over time, the concept of lifecycle modelling has been applied to a wider range of assets, including buildings, infrastructure, and industrial equipment. The approach gained wider acceptance in the 1970s and 1980s, as the idea of sustainability and lifecycle thinking gained prominence, becoming widely used in the context of environmental management in the 1990s.
In A Highways Context
The adoption of lifecycle modelling in highways engineering can be seen as part of a broader historical trend toward asset management in the transportation sector. As the political, financial and practical challenges of how we ensure our vital highways assets are fit for purpose remain pre-eminent, there has been increased focus on maintaining and preserving existing infrastructure as opposed to just building new roads. Accordingly, the need for more sophisticated tools for asset management has become more apparent.
Lifecycle modelling seeks to answer the vital questions about what will happen to the highway asset depending on decisions made now and into the future. It allows highway maintenance teams to better understand the long-term costs and impacts of different maintenance strategies, analysing the costs and benefits of different maintenance strategies, such as routine maintenance versus reactive maintenance.
How Does It Work?
Gaist has developed a Strategic Lifecycle Model (SLM) that is based on real-world data and scenarios.
It takes existing client condition data on their highway network and key information used for capital maintenance decisions and schemes and provides comparisons of different maintenance approaches to achieve the best long-term outcomes from existing budgets and a comprehensive way to show the funding required to maintain the asset.
Rather than applying a blanket approach to every road network, we take local highway maintenance data from applied machine learning techniques to understand patterns of deterioration on local networks in order to accurately model the future implications of different large-scale maintenance approaches.
The SLM also accounts for uncertainty in deterioration. This is particularly important for Local Authority networks which have evolved over many decades and have highly variable (and largely unrecorded) construction types.
Though this all sounds lofty and conceptual, it is all designed to closely mirror the practical elements of maintaining a highway asset including the impact of smaller-scale repairs. The model provides a clear presentation of outcomes against different aims such as lowest present value of costs, performance indicators and the end amount of very good vs end of life condition.
The model itself runs maintenance strategies that reflect local criteria for how schemes are undertaken and the treatment options and local pricing available so the full outcomes are unique to each local network. It also gives the ability to apply different inflationary costs to expenditure and budgets, so the user can be sure that the budget implications are as accurate as possible.
In addition to helping maintenance teams make better decisions about maintenance strategies and asset replacement, lifecycle modelling can also help them communicate the long-term costs and impacts of these decisions to stakeholders, such as government officials and the public. This can help ensure that maintenance decisions are made with a long-term perspective and are sustainable over time.
With the ability to display the data-driven analysis of costs and performance of different maintenance strategies over the entire lifecycle of a local highway asset, maintenance teams can demonstrate the cost effectiveness of their approach to stakeholders and form the bedrock for robust bespoke funding bids for their network. Gaist’s SLM, for example, includes a full report detailing strategies, methodology, evaluations and conclusions alongside supporting graphs and other visual evidence to display the full power of the analysis undertaken.
With the budgetary and inflationary pressures facing highways authorities, lifecycle modelling provides a way for highways engineers to use data to make the case for the vital work they do on our local road networks and maximise in-house expertise, focusing it on where it is most needed.
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