Digital Twins in Construction and Property Management

March 15th, 2019

A virtual replica of the status, history and capability of every one of your building’s assets, updated in real time? It sounds too good to be true, but the concept of the digital twin first emerged around the millennium. As Industry 4.0 (aka The Fourth Industrial Revolution) continues to gain momentum, interest and investment in the idea has surged. Why? Because the ROI potential of creating a digital twin is considerable.  

If you haven’t come across the concept before, a digital twin is a virtual representation of any tangible entity. It’s a model based on data streamed from any number of sensors: the more detailed the data, the more intricate and productive the twin. Such a definition may invite images of futuristic holographic or VR structures, but in practice a simple on-screen 2D model can be preferable. Intuitive representations without the gloss provide critical, usable insights to the people who own, operate or occupy environments.  

Digital twins offer a vast array of real-time applications for the construction and property management industries. While many have traditionally used Business Information Modelling (BIM), CAD models and process simulations to provide visual representations, BIM requires that each asset is modelled independently of others with no integration. Conversely, digital twins can work across the entire portfolio of a building’s assets, or even across buildings collectively. This has the potential for every stage of a building’s history – design, build, sale, occupancy – to operate as a seamless whole. 

In the wake of international news reports of deaths and evacuations due to collapsing buildings, structural faults and inferior build quality, the need for long-term data retention is a growing concern for owners and occupants alike. Sensors feeding data into a digital twin can monitor the health, compliance and structural integrity of building.  

A crack in the concrete of a multi-unit dwelling  or a change in the height of a building due to subsidence  can be pinpointed and fixed when detected and any wider implications assessed. If sensors previously recorded every step of the construction process and retained the data, the building’s history and maintenance can be analysed to understand why the crack occurred. As a knock-on effect, knowing that sensors and records will be retaining data promotes greater transparency and accountability within the construction industry. 

During the construction process and following owner/tenant occupation, digital twins have the potential to massively decrease workplace injuries and fatalities. Digital twins have the potential to massively decrease workplace injuries and fatalities in the construction process and following occupation.  Sensors can track the real-time locations of construction workers using wearable or static cameras, share the locations of equipment and whether it’s in use, identify the state of the equipment and alert workers to danger.  

Once the building is operational, a digital twin could alert a facility manager that a light has blown in the Level 42 stairwell, for example. The manager can then check the visual representation to locate the exact positioning of the bulb and the best access route. Other useful data could include the type of replacement bulb required, when the bulb was last replaced, who replaced it, the brand, wattage and cost of the bulb and whether an electrician needs to attend. The facility manager can then ensure that the bulb is replaced and/or alert occupants to any danger before an unwitting stair-user takes a tumble. Previously, facility managers would have needed to sort through ringbinders of paperworksearch computer files to find the information, or give up and fix the problem based on their own knowledge. Now, data on every asset could be collated online with a detailed maintenance history. 

You could argue that you don’t need a virtual replica of a stairwell for the bulb replacement process to happen. A sensor may already be operating that alerts the facility manager to the broken bulb via a simple interface, but a digital twin can pinpoint and guide a technician or manager to the exact point of action, identify risks to the technician and occupants, and show additional maintenance requirements and preventative measures required in the vicinity. Time efficiency + proactive and reactive response + risk reduction = reduced costs = an appealing ROI. 

The uses of digital twins for streamlining processes and improving efficiency seem endless. Imagine how providing virtual, adaptable models with the promise of real-time, accessible data during construction could revolutionise the planning approvals process. Current waiting times would be slashed, denying a whole generation the joy of whinging about red tape bureaucracy. As robotic technology develops and machine learning gathers steam, owners or managers could commission and monitor maintenance occurring without attending the site. 

Digital twinning faces challenges, as does any evolving technology, but it’s difficult to imagine a future without it: the applications seem unlimited and the potential ROI speaks for itself. Gartner predicts that by 2021, 50% of large industrial companies will use digital twins. It’s easy to see why.  

At mySmart we’ve been working with digital twins for the last eighteen years. Whether you’re at the design stage of your smart building, or looking to futureproof your existing building, we’re an Australian company at the forefront of creating intelligent environments.  

Contact us to identify how our solutions can effect positive change for your needs – it’s what we’re good at. 

Building smart cities, one mySmart building at a time.