Interview Engineering Of the Future with Sylvie Cassan & Marc Simon – SYSTRA, a leading Company that paved the way for BIM for Infra at high speed!

This week, we have the great pleasure and honor to welcome SYSTRA, one of the largest and most prestigious French International Engineering Company in the field of rail, infrastructure and urban development, which has been at the forefront of innovation and BIM since many years. It has also been repeatedly recognized for its BIM excellence everywhere in the world.

We will discuss with Sylvie Cassan, Director of Business Development at SYSTRA France & International Services and Marc Simon, in charge of BIM deployment in France, enlightening our readers with the presentation of their great Company.

Hello Sylvie and Marc, we are delighted to welcome such a prestigious engineering Company as SYSTRA. Your involvement and roles have been key to the success of your Company. Could you first introduce yourself and briefly tell us about your professional background?

Sylvie: Hi Emmanuel, I have been Director of our BIM initiative during the deployment phase in France from 2016 till 2018. Since 2019, I have been Director of Business Development and as such, I kept the responsibility of BIM development in connection with customers. I have a degree in urban planning, coupled with an eMBA at HEC. This definitely helped me manage this digital transformation of our company.
Marc is Director of Data Management Operations responsible for the deployment of BIM and Data for SYSTRA projects in France and for international contributions production from France.

Systra is one of the great French engineering companies that shines internationally. Could you tell our readers more about your company, its areas of activities, its organization and its geographic coverage? Do you specifically cover design and construction phases as well as operation and maintenance?

SYSTRA is a consulting and engineering company with more than 7,300 employees worldwide with an export share of around 70%. SYSTRA has been around for over 60 years. Its activity historically focuses on the field of guided transportation and today, it also covers all types of mobility. SYSTRA is developing a wide range of services for urban development and regional planning, around the ecological and energy transition. SYSTRA is involved throughout the lifecycle, from preliminary studies, from design to construction, testing and commissioning, operation and maintenance engineering phases. In all these phases, BIM is integrated into our processes.

What is Systra’ sustainability strategy and how do digital and BIM enable you to achieve your goals?

Our job is to create mobility solutions promoting access to territories, services, movement of people and goods. Sustainable development for SYSTRA goes beyond a regulatory approach: it is intrinsic to our projects. In a context of climate emergency and energy transition, we are particularly focusing on the management of resources (biodiversity, water, etc.) and on controlling the carbon footprint, with our CARBONTRACKER solution which is a good example of use of BIM data to accelerate the integration of ecodesign into our engineering missions.

What types of projects do you work on most frequently? Are they mainly rail infrastructure projects? Do you also manage the signaling, people flow, operation and maintenance part?

We work on all types of infrastructure projects with the particularity of integrating, in addition to buildings, linear structures whether they are roads, rails or linked to energy networks. Regarding underground or overhead railway works, the track, energy and signaling trades are involved at SYSTRA in BIM production.
The topic of operation and maintenance is integrated since the design phases: with BIM, our goal is to structure the data delivered to the operator and maintainer as soon as possible.

What is the ratio between projects in France and internationally? And what are your major accomplishments?

The ratio is 2/3rd of export projects: in France the key projects deployed in BIM have been with the Grand Paris since 2013, both in our missions of Design and PMC Systems, Technical Assistance for Owners, Rolling stock Design and automated driving systems, the Toulouse metro, again both on the Design and Owner side, on the TELT (Lyon Turin Railway Tunnel) side, but also on rail network modernization projects: Bry Villiers Champigny, St Jean de Maurienne but also smaller sizes like Ste Musse stop, Cagnes sur Mer exchange hub, tram projects such as line 13 express in Ile de France (parisian suburbs) … or even projects where we assist the Owners in the deployment of BIM on projects, as for example for the Pont Anne de Bretagne near Nantes Métropole.

Bry Villiers Champigny Station – © SYSTRA, 2021

At international level, our most significant current projects are HS2, the London Manchester High Speed project, OLP3 the high speed line at Ostlanken in Sweden, Etihad Rail Phase 2, the extension of the United Arab Emirates network or more recently the project by DUROY in Canada…

HS2 – © SYSTRA, 2021

As a large engineering company, when did you make the shift to BIM and what were the main reasons? Was this linked to a strong demand from the owner side or was it part of your strategy as a large innovative company?

We have initiated our BIM journey in 2013. We set up a dedicated program in 2015 with a French version in 2016, a strong strategic impetus from our COMEX. At international level, it was about meeting the demands of our customers, which was already high. In France, we have anticipated the demands of our major clients. The increasing demands of our customers have confirmed us that it was the way to go. Due to our market positioning, we have effectively paved the way for BIM for infrastructure in France and internationally.

When and how did you make this digital transition and what resources and organization did you put in place?

BIM was placed at the heart of the digital transformation very early on, which affects all of our processes. From the beginning of the project, a dedicated organization was set up, at group level under the leadership of Eric PRUVOST and in France where I was Director of this BIM initiative. The progress of our BIM deployment in France at the end of 2015, made it possible to switch to a more industrialized mode with the integration of dedicated teams of BIM managers, CDEs and Data managers within our Operations department, under the leadership of Marc SIMON. The BIM initiative continues with the goal today to facilitate the deployment of BIM on projects, continue to capitalize, stimulate new innovations related to BIM and Data within projects through POC (Proof Of Concept). We also continue to offer in-house training to complete the maturity of project teams.

What kind of digital and technological strategy have you put in place?

Our BIM strategy is based on 3 fundamentals, the use of new technologies to strengthen our efficiency in data creation, to strengthen our project management processes and ensure mastering of information management and finally to develop services and solutions to manage this data and bring even more value to our customers. We integrate BIM into all of SYSTRA’s businesses and we structure the Data over the entire life cycle. We are focusing our current efforts on the works and operation / maintenance phases by relying on our BIM managers and Information managers.

In particular, have you reorganized the roles and responsibilities of each person?

We « BIMized » all engineering professions and all project organizations, starting with the production and coordination teams, then Project Management. The maturity of a team is measured by that of the project management team. For new projects, our principle is to make it easier to get started with BIM with supporting BIM experts.

What are the main stages of such a change? Any pitfalls but also the benefits and return on investment?

You have to first make sure you have the leadership alignment & support and then project teams. The adoption of BIM requires a lot of pedagogy, support for change both collectively and individually because fears and even resistance to change are everywhere.
One of the adoption acceleration effects is when BIM is a requirement of our customers. The project teams also benefit from the central work of the BIM processes but also from the clearing of technical constraints, which are relatively high because the BIM tools on the market for linear and rail sector are still a work in progress. We now have more stable responses.

Do you now process all your projects in BIM or is there a critical size and / or amount of work to do so?

We now process all our new projects in BIM, regardless of the size. For old projects, we are able to apply reverse engineering methods to switch to BIM if necessary.

Which BIM projects are you most proud of and for what reasons?

The Grand Paris and HS2 (High Speed ​​Train in the UK) projects are of exceptional size and they have supported the dynamics of BIM, both in deployment and as innovation accelerators. We continue to progress and learn every day from these projects. Beyond these emblematic projects by their scale and their level of requirements, we have an infinity of smaller projects of different types where BIM is deployed: it is also an opportunity to deploy new use cases. In summary, all projects provide feedback, which we endeavor to capitalize on, both in terms of difficulties encountered and key success factors.

How do Autodesk technologies play a key role in the excellence of your know-how?

Autodesk technologies are used on a daily basis, whether it’s for CAD / BIM production. BIM 360 information management solution and the Forge platform also allow us to develop our solutions for BIM data management.

Besides, how do you collaborate with Autodesk on a daily basis and is this an essential contribution?

Beyond the tools that remain a solid basis for many of our projects, Autodesk was a key Partner in the initialization phase by providing us with its expertise and even today in our innovation work around BIM.

Innovation is at the heart of your DNA. In particular, do you develop solutions of your own to automate and speed up production such as « Prestress » and others? Could you tell us more about that aspect?

We have the particularity of having associated business teams with our BIM deployment teams from the first phases of deployment, with a view to improving our processes and our production. Indeed, this resulted in the development of our portfolio of BIM in One Click solutions for instance.

The heart of this solution is to offer modelers a key functionality in linear structure modeling which is the placement of objects according to the alignment of the project, taking into account the rules of the trade and capitalizing on a library of specific objects. This work, which was awarded through 2 Silver BIM Awards on the Toulouse (2017) and Bogota (2018) metro projects, was initiated on the engineering structures of the overhead metro infrastructure. Since then, many other modules have been created, whether for tunnels, tracks, railway gauges or even catenaries.

Bogota’s first aerial metro line – © SYSTRA, 2021

We have also developed a solution to help our modelers in the design of prestressed structures with the Prestress solution and we are currently investing a lot in the development of BIM data management solutions around the Forge platform.

What are your differentiators compared to your competitors and colleagues? What are your strengths?

In our opinion, our strength is linked to 5 factors: the level of impetus for the deployment of BIM in our organization, the financial effort made for this deployment, the establishment of dedicated teams at central level, allowing to capitalize between projects in France and between advanced countries, within our Group with a global footprint, the strong integration of BIM into our businesses; last factor and not the least, that the project was built as a technological but also organizational transformation, with people being at the heart of this transformation.

You have been awarded several time during the famous BIM d’Or competition, notably for the Toulouse and Bogota Metros, congratulations! Has it changed anything in your daily life or the way you do things? Does this push you to go even further?

These 2 distinctions in 2017 and then 2018 in the BIM Infrastructure field in France and International categories first of all brought recognition to the project and deployment teams. They have also enabled us to highlight internally SYSTRA as the pioneers of digital transformation, by acknowledging the successes of the teams who have had the braveness and vision to develop and innovate, which is a strong value within the SYSTRA Group.

Toulouse Metro – © SYSTRA

Are you investigating in generative design or artificial intelligence? Is this a strong axis of development for you?

We initiated a Proof of Concept in 2019 on generative design applied to the functional design of metro stations. If you wish to have more details aboyt it, you can view our latest class during Autodesk University that you can view here. Although we did not achieve all of our goals, we have learned a lot and this has allowed us to better define our current actions to test the possibilities of AI. However, I cannot tell you more at this stage except that it is indeed a strong focus of our innovation work.

Are Virtual and Augmented Reality important in your workflows?

We have initiated virtual reality for some stations of the Grand Paris, in particular to ensure, in addition to our flow experts, the intuitive nature of train movements, which have the particularity of being deep (30 to 50 m for the deepest). We currently use virtual reality mainly for communication but also for training purposes as part of the activity of our SYSTRA Academy entity dedicated to rail risks with the ability to safely understand the blast effect of trains.

SMI VITRY Platform modeling and catenaries columns – © SYSTRA

What types of simulations do you perform using BIM? People flows, fluids, fires, disasters, etc. ?

We have integrated passengers flow models into the building models; this was particularly the case during the Hyperloop challenge that we won in 2016.
We also modeled the behavior of a Grand Paris station in terms of acoustics to ensure the intelligibility of the vocal messages with regard to the ambient noise of escalator equipment, for example, …).
We were also pioneers in the convergence of BIM and GIS data, a « natural » environment for territorial data for infrastructure projects of several tens of kilometers for urban transport projects, several hundred kilometers for rail projects.

In addition, do you converge the simulation of your « building » projects, with the trains that are inside by allowing drivers in particular to simulate the piloting of a train or a metro on lines and to anticipate the functioning of the signals, in particular thanks to artificial intelligence?

On the maintenance sites, we effectively compared the interior volumetry of the buildings, in particular at the level of structures, the gangway equipment with the train gauges, but also the positioning of the landing doors.
During the project for SNCF at the Issy RER station, we verified the visibility of the signals by the train driver during the design studies, directly in the maintenance BIM model.

Issy-les-Moulineaux RER Station – © SYSTRA, 2021

Moreover, will subways and trains be more and more autonomous and will BIM help to simulate it in a better way?

Whether it’s for the Grand Paris or Toulouse metro, metro projects are fully automatic. We have extended the use of BIM as Design for rolling stock and driving automation in the Grand Paris, with the modeling of a library of objects specific to this type of work.

In the same spirit, are you already simulating the future maintenance of electrical, technical, or other installations using augmented reality?

We have digitized the processes for our trades of testers on electrical and signaling installations to facilitate our Testing and Commissioning phases. Once the data is structured and the objects have been modeled, there is only one step in transmitting the data to the future maintainer.
As mentioned, we are developing augmented reality within the framework of SYSTRA académie. We mention the use of the project review, to allow the teams in the field to dialogue with the experts remotely.

Digital Twins are taking up more and more space, especially for infrastructure. Are you developing ad-hoc in-house digital twin solutions and offers for your customers? Based on Forge or do you rely on market solutions?

We are in a holistic approach to the tools on the market taking into account the requirements of the project owner and the necessary interface with the pre-existing environment, in particular the CMMS tools.
As mentioned previously, we are working on the subject of digital twins with a very pragmatic approach focused on the principle of data exploitation. For this, we actually rely on Forge which allows us to process and visualize the most common BIM formats like IFC and Revit and therefore to develop, for example, simulation solutions like our CARBONTracker solution.

Furthermore, what innovations or transformations are you working on for the future?

Two of the strong pillars of SYSTRA’s strategy are sustainable development and safety.
On the first subject, our BIM innovation teams support the ecodesign business to strengthen its integration into our design processes by giving them access to information. Indeed, the objective of CARBONTracker is first of all to quantify the emissions over the course of the project and to associate it with all the analysis tools allowing the CO2 factor to be taken into account in all decision-making.
On the second subject, we are in the development phase of our SAFEbyBIM application which will allow better control of security risks over their entire life cycle.

As a major player in the sector and a major international player, what is your vision of the progress of BIM in France compared to the world? Do you think this is sufficient?

The maturity evolution of BIM initially in France was undoubtedly less rapid for various reasons: the choice of public authorities to stimulate rather than mandate; the sequencing of the missions between the designer, the builder versus more integrated visions of the act of building abroad; finally, the characteristics of our ecosystem in the construction sector, which in France is characterized by a large number of players to embark on, with nearly 400,000 companies for the construction sector.
However, it should be noted the enormous investment of France through the MINnD Project and in particular MINnD4Rail in the development of IFC standards for infrastructure which will make it possible to accelerate the deployment of BIM while guaranteeing the interoperability of data and therefore the possibility of being able to fully exploit the benefits of this data.

Do you think that a BIM mandate like in the United Kingdom or some countries of South America would help to move things forward in France?

We do not believe that we should revisit the choices of the past. Moreover, the adoption of BIM is progressing and each edition of the BIM d’Or proves the tremendous progress of BIM in France, of its adoption regardless of the size of the projects and sectors of activity. On the other hand, it seems necessary to us to collectively move the lines in terms of defining the missions of BIM management and their links with the MOP law, or subjects relating to contractual clauses or even insurance subjects.

Do you have a particular message that you would like to convey to our readers?

As a pioneer of BIM for Infra, with increased technological difficulties compared to the building, we would like to emphasize again that BIM is more than a simple adoption of tools, much more than an approach: its deployment is a powerful revealer of what works or not in organizations.
It is also sharing the feeling that we have paved the way, made great progress but that we still have before us a formidable source of unsuspected innovations, often resulting from a multidisciplinary approach: so meet your readership to build this future!

Did you know ABCD Blog?

We are indeed familiar with your blog that you launched Emmanuel in 2014 and we are delighted to share our feedback.

Sylvie, Marc, a big thank you for your time and this fascinating presentation of Systra. We hope you continue your successful journey on the path to excellence in engineering and BIM.

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