Shanghai Electric creates digital twin for waste incineration project

The Technology Renovation and Expansion Project for Furnace No.1, No.2, and No.3 of Shanghai Electric Environmental Protection Thermoelectric (Nantong) Co Ltd, located in Nantong City, Jiangsu province, China, is the first waste-to-energy incineration project performed by Shanghai Electric. It is an example of comprehensive utilisation of waste-to-energy incineration, which allows the waste to be reduced, recycled, and made harmless to the environment.

The renovation and expansion project has played a significant role in improving urban infrastructure construction, upgrading urban environments, and promoting sustainable economic development. It also has significant environmental and social benefits, and will greatly improve the living environment of residents and stimulate local economic development and employment once the project is operational.   


Shanghai Electric needed to build three new, 750-t-per-day waste incineration mechanical grate treatment lines to replace the original fluidised bed waste incineration ones. The company needed to keep the existing plant running smoothly to avoid garbage siege, heating supply breakdown, and other livelihood issues that a plant production suspension might cause. Some of the challenges included dealing with so many interactions between the old and new plants to keep the existing operation going in the process of technology renovation and expansion.

In addition, the project was newly built at the original production site, so the available space was very limited and made the size of the new single building smaller compared with the conventional design. This situation also made the process layout of equipment, pipelines, and other materials extremely compact. To meet these challenges, Shanghai Electric needed a robust and innovative solution that would facilitate the difficult design requirements.   

Shanghai Electric realised that it needed to adopt a BIM process with 3D digital design to create a digital twin that would help increase design efficiency, and also reduce construction site rework that would otherwise delay the project and add unnecessary costs.  

Bentley’s digital technology 

After researching its options, Shanghai Electric chose to implement Bentley applications. The company started with OpenPlant Modeler, which helped to solve over 600 clash problems in the design in advance and greatly reduce the design changes and construction rework, improve the quality of the project, and save CNY 2.4 million in installation materials and labour costs.

At the same time, the 3D design greatly enhanced pipeline design depth, which does not appear in traditional 2D drawings. As a result, the introduction of BIM technology greatly improved productivity, and the installation period was shortened from the estimated five months to four months, with significant economic benefits brought about by the plant being put into operation one month earlier.

Shanghai Electric also used OpenBuildings Designer to build a prefabricated component model library and a door and window component library, which the company then used to design the building and develop manufacturing and construction plans. A rigorous component design allowed the team to perform detailed design analysis, refinement, and improvement. 

Bentley’s Navigator enabled a mobile display of the 3D model, making it easier to view the equipment and pipeline properties, as well as improve communication with the design institute, the construction contractor, and the owner. LumenRT allowed Shanghai Electric to generate model programmes, which provided the designer, construction contractor, and owner with an immersive review.

Shanghai Electric also found a way to view the 3D digital model anytime, anywhere, using Bentley’s iTwin Services and cloud technology. During the construction process, the company avoided the traditional manual count and review of work quantities, and it used the model to view the equipment and pipeline schedules, which became an important basis for preparing the construction budget and completion settlement. Meanwhile, Shanghai Electric carried out the lifecycle management of project assets through the model to improve the operational management efficiency of enterprises. 

To effectively assist the design and optimisation of the support hanger, Shanghai Electric used AutoPIPE to calculate pipeline stress and perform flange analysis and pipeline bracket design under dynamic and static load. In actual operations, AutoPIPE’s 3D thermal clash detection feature alerts engineers of thermal displacements in pipelines as they heat up to avoid costly plant shutdown. 

Lastly, Bentley’s ProjectWise enabled design team collaboration with BIM workflows throughout the entire process. Using ProjectWise greatly improved visualisation of the design to make the structure of the plant more compact and the pipeline layout design more reasonable and attractive.  

Positive outcome 

Adopting Bentley’s solutions empowered Shanghai Electric to apply a correct BIM-based process for a digital twin of the project. By shortening the design cycle from two months to 45 days, it saved the design institute 31% in labour costs, reduced construction errors by 90%, and greatly improved accuracy. Using a BIM approach with the applications helped improve the overall design quality and depth by 50%, and delivered a high-quality project while increasing the competitiveness of the design institute.

Additionally, 3D models allowed Shanghai Electric to produce accurate material statistics, which led to costs savings to the owner of about CNY 2 million in pipeline material costs. The 3D BIM design process using Bentley software helped Shanghai Electric complete the project 31 days ahead of schedule, which reduced the noise impact on the neighbouring enterprises or residents by at least 10 decibels and improved the living environment and quality for the surrounding residents and enterprises.  

Image: Shanghai Electric Environmental Protection Thermoelectric (Nantong) Co Ltd