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MongoDB Database, Ingenuity Behind 3D Remote Site Visits

VEERUM opted to build its digital twin technology software on a MongoDB database hosted on AWS. Find out why in this case study.

When three self-professed problem-solvers joined forces in 2014 to rethink the unwieldy way most industrial sites and facilities were managed, even they couldn’t have envisioned how far they would get. The trio – Steve Fisher, Amit Varma, and Scott Benesh – would develop digital twin technology software and found the Calgary-based company VEERUM.

The idea at the time was to reduce inefficiencies and cost overruns by enabling managers to perform site visits remotely rather than drive out to a site. As envisioned, managers would have visibility into all plant or site assets in real time, along with data about conditions.

Providing that type of access required ingesting, aggregating, analyzing, and georeferencing millions of data points – from pumps and boilers to piping and flanges to maintenance manuals and work orders – in a way that was easily searchable.

It also demanded both creativity and state-of-the-art technology. To produce an immersive experience, the team used a combination of drones, photogrammetry, terrestrial data scanning, and global mapping, to generate massive amounts of data. The data was fed into a MongoDB database hosted on AWS. The team settled on MongoDB because it could handle its large data volumes and offer flexibility.

Focusing in on Digital Twin Technology

VEERUM’s technology proved wildly successful. The company won a few awards, and its client base grew rapidly. But the team was just getting started. A few years ago, VEERUM upped the ante by adding more 3D assets and connecting all data points to real-time data stored in critical business information systems, like ERP, work order management, content management, along with adjunct information like safety records and permit information.

The technology aims to simulate the experience of being onsite – a concept widely referred to as digital twinning. A digital twin is essentially a virtual or digital representation of an object or system that is continually updated with real-time data.

“We wanted people to be able to click on a pump and bring up all of the related information about it: safety records, maintenance manuals, open work orders, or open permits that might be needed to do the work on site,” said VEERUM CTO Rob Southon. “[Users] can view all information about an item from a single cloud-native web application, and they no longer need to go into 10 to 20 or more different systems to find all of the information they need to get their job done.”

Making a Good Thing Even Better

The first step in broadening the scope of VEERUM’s software was to re-evaluate the underlying technology. VEERUM chose to continue hosting its SaaS-based offering on AWS infrastructure. The company also opted to retain MongoDB but moved from a self-hosted to managed version of the database.

“We were going through a stage of growth where we knew we wouldn’t know how many clients we would have or how much data they would have from month to month because nobody had really aggregated this amount of data and then geolocated it back before,” Southon explained. MongoDB Atlas would ensure automatic scalability.

Today, every single pump, work order, and piece of equipment is represented as an object, and all data points are aggregated in 3D. All objects are stored in the MongoDB database. MongoDB Atlas Search now indexes billions of aggregate data points and enables users to index and query data across a wide variety of data sources. As a result, users can now get search results from across multiple systems in seconds instead of hours.

“In addition to being able to enter one word and search across different systems, we wanted to provide a complete experience where users could get down to specifics,” Southon said. “For example, ‘Show me the work orders assigned to me that are overdue at this site location that require a certain permit.’ That’s where [MongoDB] Atlas Search really makes a difference.”

Despite the complexities of a system that provides a fully searchable, immersive, 3D experience, it’s making a difference. Southon said the company is seeing up to a 50% reduction in site visits and 35% efficiency gains in work order management and execution. 

While the platform works well on a desktop, many users prefer tablets or even smartphones. This portability means that if managers need to visit sites, they can use mobile devices to bring up information related to a given scope of work, work order, or piece of equipment.

During its most recent upgrade, VEERUM increased support for virtual reality. While the software had already supported VR to some extent using Unity, the newest version adds that capability, built using the open WebVR specification, on top of its web app. With this capability and a head-mounted display, managers can become fully immersed and surrounded by the site without having to travel to it. This enables everything from virtual walkthroughs to remote training.

Next up is finding a way for its users to securely tap into the massive amount of data that VEERUM aggregates through an API.   “We’re always pushing the art of the possible,” Southon said.

About the author

 Karen D. Schwartz headshotKaren D. Schwartz is a technology and business writer with more than 20 years of experience. She has written on a broad range of technology topics for publications including CIO, InformationWeek, GCN, FCW, FedTech, BizTech, eWeek and Government Executive.
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