Digital Twins

Digital Twins

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More and more we’re learning that the future of business in the AEC industry is in the data. Gathering and analyzing that data are the new ways to keep a finger on the pulse of creating buildings that are smarter, safer and more efficient. When a building’s information is modeled during the BIM process, certain assumptions are made about the future performance of the HVAC system to affect air flow, comfort and a healthy environment after the project is finished. Assumptions are made about how window glazing will affect solar radiation, heating or cooling needs, and lighting. After the building is commissioned, the BIM model reaches the end of the line for accumulating data. But what if there were another model, a twin, that could take over at handover and continue to capture the data from the day to day operations of the building? If that were the case, designers and engineers could refine their assumptions about how building systems function, affecting the way the next project would be better modeled.

The July, 2019 Bluebeam StrXur article “Digital Twin Technology,” describes this up-and-coming business service for collecting performance data far beyond today’s traditional energy audits and using the results to determine how to manage the building now, plus design and build better the next time around.

A real-world application of the Internet of Things (IoT) – where everything around us, from traffic cams to cell phones, is increasingly and pervasively “wired” – digital twins are computer models developed by collecting real-time data from a plethora of sensors embedded all around the building with which to monitor air flow, temperatures, light, electricity use, movement of building occupants, the condition of the kitchen, and operation of appliances and equipment. A steady flow of information keeps the building owner and facilities manager apprised of how the building is being used.

Legal questions about privacy aside, the value of the data collected is an important feature of the building’s life cycle. The StrXur article suggests that owners should take steps from the start to have sensors designed into a building so they can later feed into the digital twin. As the article pointed out, the construction industry is turning out buildings that are “smarter” and more interactive all the time. Refinements in sensors mean the efficiencies of residences, hospitals, hotels, and plants can be measured reliably and communicated to the people who own and run them. Even better, the feedback can lead to superior designs and planning and more precise digital modeling on future buildings and the systems within them. In addition, those improvements can be put into effect more quickly because of the real-time performance analysis and reporting.

A 2018 article on engineering.com, “Digital Twins: Where Are We Now?” explains that the technology is developing as the industry is increasingly able to capture data with IoT sensors, process “big data” in the cloud and simulate real-life scenarios, from diagnostics to predictions.

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Digital Twin overview: image from engineering.com, courtesy of Deloitte.

The digital twin is another technology advancement that will leave its mark on the AEC industry for many years to come. See “Harnessing Disruptive BIM Technologies” on the Applied Software blog for an explanation about how advancements in technology are disrupting the AEC industry in a positive way and requiring companies to take a more efficient approach to the way they do business.

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