AEC Panel Discussion: The role of infrastructure design in India’s ambitions

By Sandhya Michu & Shibul Pavithran

To realize the goal of becoming a 5 trillion-dollar economy by 2025, the Indian infrastructure segment needs to play a lead role in our transformation story. With close to USD 2 trillion earmarked for investment in road, rail, port, air, and other infrastructure projects the intent is very clear.  Today, infrastructure plays multiple roles such as facilitating growth, strengthening resilience, and ensuring sustainability. We need to deliver more projects to sustain the population with better project outcomes but with less available resources to build those projects. Digital technology becomes the only enabler that can achieve the best mix of doing better and more but balancing that with the limited resources we have. 

Against this outlook, Express Computer and Autodesk co-organised a power-packed panel discussion on the ‘Future of Design,’ themed around Future of Design: Designing & Constructing Infrastructure Projects that will be Relevant in 2050. 

The discussion provided a deep dive into the infrastructure ecosystem and discussed key solutions and issues in pivoting Infra projects towards a sustainable and resilient future. The one-hour-long discussion touched upon the impact and business outcomes that path-breaking innovative technologies such as Design Automation, Artificial Intelligence & BIM are driving toward the transformation in the Infrastructure Industry in the present and future.

The panel discussion was attended by the senior officers from leading government departments. R K Pandey, Member Projects, National Highway Authority of India (NHAI); Sanjay Kumar Nirmal, Additional Director General, Ministry of Road Transport & Highways, and Secretary-General, IRC;  Pradeep Agrawal, Director, Projects, National Rural Infrastructure Development Agency;  Sunil Jain, Senior Principal Scientist, CSIR – Central Road Research Institute and Nikhil Bagalkotkar, Tech Sales Leader – Architecture, Engineering & Construction(AEC) –Autodesk. Sandhya Michu, Principal Correspondent, Express Computer and CRN India moderated the session.

Opening the panel discussion RK Pandey from NHAI, who is greatly involved in the implementation of the Bharatmala project, which is a significant project connecting destinations in the country said, “The new and refurbished infrastructure — whether it’s a road, a bridge, a rail line — should be developed with a vision for the future, one that includes multiple layers of smart cities technologies, say public and industry experts.” 

He also opined, “The infrastructure sector can embrace digital transformation by incorporating advanced sensing and analytics into its whole project and life cycle to achieve 20-30% increased efficiency in maintenance and forecasting.”

Seconding Pandey’s statement, Sanjay Kumar Nirmal suggested, “We need to build infrastructure for the future, for the next 50 years, not for the last 20. Innovation should be top-of-mind not only for the technology itself but how infrastructure projects are envisioned and designed. Digital intelligence could be leveraged to create safe, dependable, and resource-efficient city management.”

While sharing the experience in building the rural Infra projects and how NRIDA developed an evidence-based IT solution for real-time monitoring of the performance of roads through web and mobile app-based IT architecture and digital bill generation and payment systems. Pradeep Agrawal informed. “NRIDA Chennai based auto crash test lab is state-of-the-art in terms of world-class facility equipped with latest performance tools and applications in which we track the performance and durability of the road.”

Aggarwal also advised synchronising infrastructure with long-term rural planning. “Coordinating infrastructure planning with development needs could minimize ad-hoc and compartmentalised infrastructure decisions,” he stated.

Nikhil Bagalkotkar, Tech Sales Leader – Architecture, Engineering & Construction(AEC) –Autodesk

Taking the discussion forward, Nikhil Bagalkotkar from Autodesk shared the background of three major disruptions in the design and construction industry: Automation, Industrialised construction, and digital delivery of projects. 

He further added by saying, “In the last 20 years the productivity of the manufacturing segment which is a peer of the construction segment went up by as much as 89%, at the same time the productivity for the construction segment went up by a mere 22%. A lot of it is possible due to the change in construction methods from what we did 30 years back and how we do construction now. We have mostly automated all our operations, but the process more or less remains unchanged.” 

Another panelist, Sunil Jain, puts forth the modernization of design and technology in the pavement design concept. He talked about how CSIR uses pavement design tools like PAVEXpress and shared interesting use cases of AI, ML Automation, and BIM. “Infrastructure must be designed with layers of integration to maximise the connectivity, functionality, and sustainability of new and existing projects,” he said.

Consequently, Nikhil Bagalkotkar summed up the importance of digital transformation in the design phase. He projected by saying, “In designing, we have been using AutoCAD, which is the de-facto name in top-notch 2D and 3D design and drafting, which has over the years evolved into BIM (Building Information Modelling). In recent times, we have seen an evolution in BIM as well, where it has truly surpassed the third dimension.” Lastly, Bagalkotkar explained, “The way in which digital transformation is happening in the ecosystem is by the evolution of BIM, from 3D to 5D, to 7D and even beyond. “

Further he shared his thoughts before the audience on sustainable infrastructure, Nikhil Bagalkotkar said, “Sustainable infrastructure is critical not only for the future but also for resolving the problems of today. Sustainability is now a mainstay of conversations, investments, and projects in the infrastructure space.”

Right after the insightful panel discussion. Vivek Ramesh, Solution Engineer, AEC, Autodesk India took over the stage and gave an interesting presentation titled ‘Future of design in Designing and Construction that will be relevant in 2050’. In his showcase-led presentation, he highlighted several use cases of BIM and GIS that enable advanced understanding of projects in context, minimize data loss, and reduce inefficiencies. 

The conference was concluded by setting the key directions for the AEC industry which is going to be more relevant as a whole for the industry. It highlighted the role technology can play in delivering large-scale infrastructure projects on time, within budget, and safely. The growing adoption of BIM Adoption and Digital Transformation and Smart Infrastructure Design were among the key learnings of this unique conference.


AECAEC Panel DiscussionAutodeskAutodesk IndiaEngineering & Construction(AEC) –AutodeskFuture of designNikhil BagalkotkarSolution EngineerTech Sales Leader – ArchitectureVivek Ramesh
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