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BIM 101: Digital Twins

Published: 2020-08-10

Earlier this year we kicked off our series Introduction to Building Information Modeling. In the first text we covered the basics of what BIM actually means. Today, we´re taking it one step further and look into the term ”Digital Twin”.

While the idea of digital twins are still new to the construction sector the concept has been around for a while, for example in the manufacturing industry. Companies likes Siemens are pushing development forwards motivated by Schwab’s Fourth Industrial Revolution.

What is a digital twin

See it as a digital copy of a physical entity and could be anything from a phone, a car, an airplane, a building, maybe neighbourhood or a complete city. The concept is based upon 3D software, cloud computing and AI-tech.

Twinning can also be used for visualization, documentation, modeling, analysis and planning. It´s not only used during design- and construction phases but continue to fill a purpose throughout the complete lifetime of its real world counterpart.

Communication is key. The point of the digital twin is that the connection between the virtual model and the construction site enables transmission of updated data between the twins. This connection is what forms the basis of the fourth industrial revolution.

Industry 4.0

Our world today is standing on the threshold of a digital transformation. The fourth revolution is about enhancing computers and machines with intelligent data and autonomous computing. While the third industrial revolution was about bringing new, disruptive technology, Industry 4.0 is about the connected language between these technological systems.

The AEC industry is not exempted from this transformation, but it is lagging. Where manufacturing and aviation has come a long way in using intelligent data and smart information management, there are still parts of AEC that are not even designing in BIM.

Build 4.0 is a parallel initiative which works towards a more digitized construction sector. The aim with a more automated process is to lower costs, have shorter lead times and to open up for innovative architecture. Expensive construction and housing shortages is a worldwide problem and Build 4.0 is an initiative to conquer these challenges. A digital twin is a tool in this revolution.

Why should we look to digital twins

The uses for digital twins are several and the concept complex. To get a better understanding, let´s look into more practical applications of the digital twin.

  1. Automated construction project progress monitoring Construction progress monitoring means periodic measurement of the actual progress of a project and its comparison with expected plans. Because of the dependency between activities and the complexity of the tasks, progress monitoring could be challenging to keep up to date. However, with new technology this is on its way to be automated.

Traditionally progress monitoring is done through personnel resources such as regular reports by foremen. These reports can be biased and be subject of human errors. By moving towards automated data collection, the BIM model is more likely to mirror the on-site progress.

  1. On-Site Safety When it comes to fatal injuries, the construction sector is the most dangerous in the world. By running simulations and keeping up real-time data in the digital twin, hazardous zones could be more closely monitored while also having a higher control of human activity and usage of unsafe materials. With video cameras and mobile devices combined with AR systems, and potential AI technology, a digital twin with up to date information about the construction site would be a much needed boost to our on-site safety efforts.

  2. Traceability and Sustainability When construction is finished and the time comes for facility management to take over, the digital twin could be easily handed over to the next party. Thanks to BIM and how information has been managed, the twin would not only show how the physical entity looks now, but also what decisions have been made underway. The knowledge and insights the twin would bring will inform important decision making in the future.

What´s next?

While a lot of the technology needed for digital twins already exist, it’s not obvious how the concept should be put into practice. There isn´t one simple software that will do as a quick fix, but several systems and sources that generates information each in its own way and by their own set of rules. The technology must be powerful enough to maintain information from all these sources while also effortlessly transmit data between the digital twin and the physical entity. This is not only very complicating infrastructure but also costly.

We are only in the beginning of grasping the uses of digital twins. Because of this, we as an industry might not have reached the maturity needed to be willing to invest the time and money it takes to reach the full potential of digital twinning. And we´re not only talking about the technology but we also need to look at education, training and proper implementation.

There are countries today that are reviewing the government ruled standardisations of construction, for example having BIM requirements when handling fire protection. The synergies between government regulations, industry pioneers and new technology could be the key to unlocking the future of digital twins. But before we get there, we need to keep working for a digitized fire safety sector.

Want to know more about digital design?

Don´t hesitate to reach out if you want to know more about BIM and fire safety. If you feel ready to try digital work flows, don´t forget your free trial of Bimfire Tools.

Further reading

Schwab’s Fourth Industrial Revolution

Construction Dive Tech 101

BIM Wiki

Alizadehsalehi, Sepehr & Yitmen, Ibrahim. (2018). A Concept for Automated Construction Progress Monitoring: Technologies Adoption for Benchmarking Project Performance Control. ARABIAN JOURNAL FOR SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING. 44. 10.1007/s13369-018-3669-1.