What is a Digital Twin and what does it mean for the Construction industry?

Digital Twins is a topic area that is being discussed more frequently across the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry and with increasing excitement, especially by those who may not have originally considered Building Information Modelling (BIM) relevant to them but see the significant opportunities Digital Twins could potentially provide. However, there remain many misconceptions or differing points of view of what a Digital Twin is.

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The basic concept of Digital Twins is to have three parts:

  • A real-world object
  • A digital representation of that object and
  • A connection between the two.

This connection could be automated via sensors, measurement and monitoring devices, with real-time data being fed to a Building Information Model (BIM). The connection could also be less automated by collecting data manually and inputting into BIM or an Electronic Asset Management system with 3D viewing capabilities as examples, although the latter is less efficient it remains a viable method although without immediacy.

Lets learn from each other

Of course, the concept of Digital Twins is not exclusive to the construction sector. For example, it is being explored extensively within the healthcare sector with the development of Digital Twins of the entire human body, so there is a lot of opportunity to learn from others. Connecting information management systems with real world data is not a new concept, and the use of Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems connected to computers, networked data communications and graphical user interfaces for the management of machines and processes is commonplace. This can include the use of sensors and other devices, such as programmable logic controllers interfacing with plant, machinery, or equipment.

Create a digital twin based on what you need to do

In our psyche, Digital Twins have often been depicted in Sci-fi or Action genres of movies, where the viewing of the built environment in virtual 3D via holographic glasses or mobile devices has been presented to audiences for decades and maybe this is the reason why it is easy to imagine a world using Digital Twins.

As we exponentially produce more BIM outputs and associated data, the natural evolution was always towards Digital Twins, but what can we do today, what are the challenges, and what are the benefits? The immediate response is always “What questions do you need answers to?” Having an answer to this starts the investigation towards the best solution for a Digital Twin, but if that cannot be answered immediately some organisations are now exploring solutions such as Autodesk’s Tandem, a cloud-based Digital Twin technology platform to start their own exploration into Digital Twins whether they are designers, contractors, or asset owners.