BIM and Digital Twins: Getting Beyond the Hype

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BIM and Digital Twins: Getting Beyond the Hype

October 3, 2022
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It’s a common misconception that Building Information Modeling (BIM) is synonymous with the term Digital Twins. In many cases, BIM is considered a part of the construction process, while the concept of Digital Twins suggests real-time data visualization of maintenance and operations.

Digital Twin has become a buzzword for any type of digital representation, but this is not entirely true. These are complicated models that process thousands of data points simultaneously. A Digital Twin is a united platform designed to visualize and apply analytical controls throughout the life cycle of an entire building.

Some industries, such as transportation, mining, and aviation, have experienced widespread adoption of Digital Twins. There has been significant adoption of this technology in the built environment. This article will delve into several use cases, insights, and optimization options.

A Primer on Building Information Modeling

Building Information Modeling has been part of the landscape since the 1970s. Despite its established history, widespread adoption didn’t occur until the early 2000s, through the innovative efforts of Bentley Systems and Autodesk.

BIM is designed to offer visualization and collaboration during design and construction stages, rather than being applied to maintenance and operations. Instead of creating an exact model of a building in a physical space, it’s used by architects, engineers and construction companies in the design and building stages. The main focus of BIM is to enable all these teams to share information, collaborate and utilize tools that facilitate the process. 

BIM provides a new way to pin down spatial relationships through the visualization available during design and prototyping. However, in contrast to Digital Twins, the information model is used for future building projects, rather than ones that already exist.

The Basics of Digital Twins

Many believe that Digital Twins represent a recent technology. It was used as early as the 1960s as a part of space programming systems, gaining attention over the past 20 years. Digital Twins are quickly becoming known as an integral part of tech for anyone who owns or runs a building. It can give you real-time information about the environment without physically being there yourself. Owners can observe how things are running based on how occupants behave and make changes based on those insights.

This is a model that changes over time to create more value the longer the building is operational. BIM is an integral part of the inputs for a Digital Twin, but it can’t answer all the questions that a facility manager might have about how to create fully optimized operations.

Whereas BIM focuses more on buildings, Digital Twins use simulation, machine learning and reasoning to help decision making during the building lifecycle. As Digital Twins grow, it’s expected that assets will include entire organizations. Behaviors, processes, and people will be essential data points that provide more information about an existing environment.

What Digital Twins Provide 

Digital Twins are often seen as the best option for managing connected assets and infrastructure, in a fiscally responsible manner that conserves time. As Digital Twins have become more commonplace, expectations for infrastructure standards and facilities have increased. More people are choosing to select innovative IoT (Internet of Things) solutions, rather than rely upon traditional technology.

Currently, Digital Twins are still theoretical in some ways but are blossoming in other applications. The understanding of the technology varies by the end user and the company. However, the basic desire is to increase efficiency and improve sustainable outcomes. 

A Digital Twin can help someone understand where value can be derived and provide a direction to move in. Through modeling different scenarios, problems can be identified and resolved before they create issues in a physical space.

Requirements for a Digital Twin

Data capture is the principal factor in implementing a Digital Twin. This begins with collecting data from a building or other object to analyze how different variables impact the construction or manufacturing process. It’s essential to determine and understand what elements will process, store, manage, integrate, and process the data underpinning the Digital Twin.

To break it down further, stakeholders want to gain insight into information and assets, through a full immersive understanding of its potential. This typically begins with a process of visualization. Digital Twins can take several types of data and provide a representation of the asset, so you can not only see it, but also measure how it’s performing, for a true image of what is happening in the physical world.

Success with Digital Twins involves the creation of a set of requirements, and standardization to adopt this innovative technology. Anyone who wants to begin working with Digital Twins should choose a specific application and an underlying project concept.

Kind of Digital Twins and Their Uses

Autodesk has been a long-time user of Digital Twins, specifically for use in architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC). These Digital twins can be used to determine how to design an asset, verify how it’s performing, and evaluate various scenarios, in order to be prepared for the future.

There are five types of Digital Twins noted by Autodesk and understanding each of them can give insight into what this technology is truly capable of. 

  • Type 1: Descriptive – This twin is visually oriented with editable, live construction and design data. It uses both BIM and 3D models to offer insights.
  • Type 2: Informative – This twin has everything mentioned above as well as operations data and sensors to create more timely insights when anything changes within the twin.
  • Type 3: Predictive – Twins can collect analytics, contextual data, and real-time data as a combination that is ideal for determining problems.
  • Type 4: Comprehensive – The twin in this situation has advanced simulation and modeling capabilities to work with future scenarios that may occur. It also includes prescriptive recommendations and analytics.
  • Type 5: Autonomous – The highest level is a twin that can learn new things and make its own decisions through the use of artificial intelligence (AI). It also features 3D visualization and simulation through expanded algorithms.

In the AEC world, Digital Twins include a robust number of services to offer clients. More options often lead to additional clients. The adoption of twins can make a business stand out and offer added value through impressive amounts of relevant data.

Another benefit is time efficiency. It’s easier to reach out to and work with owners on performance expectations and asset use, as well as decide which forms of data should be prioritized to meet current and future goals. Cost savings can also be possible when a Digital Twin is used in tandem with construction and design. 

Innovation Coming to the World of Digital Twins

Autodesk isn’t the only company that is leaning into Digital Twins hard. Ericsson also provides the option to create Digital Twins. Even Amazon has chosen to make AWS IoT TwinMaker available. This has created a much wider range of options for anyone who wants to test-drive the technology. 

Amazon strives to help developers create Digital Twins of real systems, like production lines, factories, industrial machines, and buildings. Ericsson is in the game to help with network expansion, modernization, and deployment. Both are making waves by creating a digital world that anyone can harness for their business needs.

You can see how innovation is happening by looking at current experiences with Digital Twins. For instance, AStar, Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology, and Research, has worked to equip all their machine equipment with Digital Twins that can make changes as needed without human intervention.

Tesla is also in the Digital Twins landscape and has taken it even further. Every car that comes off the line has a Digital Twin to accompany it. The sensors located in the vehicle send information to the Digital Twin. The latter can then provide you with information about issues that should be modified or examined to avoid mechanical breakdown.

Real-Time Insights and Actual Applications of Digital Twins in Transportation

One of the largest benefits of using Digital Twins is the ability to understand what’s happening in real-time using digital technology. This is a huge change since it’s always been a struggle to determine how well your assets are performing based on the operational choices you make.

Digital Twins provide an ideal tool to bridge the gap and understand how a building or space is used. Many companies are already using this technology to change the way decisions are made and updates are created. 

For instance, Buildmedia has created a virtual version of the Wellington City Council. It uses data to get car parking availability, cycle sensor data, air traffic visualizations, and transportation statistics. All these things help make decisions about how infrastructure operates within a city.

Another project by 51 World provides a Digital Twin of a subway station. Nearly 300,000 people use the station each day, making it the busiest in the capital city of China’s Hunan province. The Digital Twin uses a series of motion sensors to determine how many passengers are present at any time. This can be used to direct and optimize traffic.

The transportation sector has also made use of a Digital Twin of Singapore’s Changi Airport. The idea behind this was to visualize and simulate real-time experiences like congestion and traffic flow near terminals. The data is used to improve efficiency, safety, and navigation. Planners and architects can see how substantial changes would affect circumstances before putting them in place.

All these examples give an idea of how Unreal Engine is helping to create outstanding Digital Twins in an important industry. This is just one industry that has seen huge changes through the implementation of Digital Twins and it’s only going to increase as more companies, organizations, and governments realize the benefits possible.

Use of Digital Twins in the Infrastructure World

Another buzzword that everyone is scrambling to understand is the metaverse. The metaverse is meant to be a way to interact with the digital world from the physical one. The proliferation of metaverse applications has allowed Digital Twins to expand in usage as digital replicas of projects become more commonplace.

The metaverse is an exceptional space for infrastructure projects, but it also has its own set of challenges. The needs are different, based on its immense importance, larger cycles, and an extended lifecycle. 

For entertainment, applications are possible that couldn’t be implemented in the real world. Infrastructure, on the other hand, needs precision. Digital Twins are part of this in combination with BIM and 3D design data. Real-world data, maps, and point clouds are all a part of the process.

An example of how that can happen can be seen in the ITER project in France. This magnetic fusion facility is researching the possibility of using fusion for energy. Tons of data have been created through the experiments involved in the process. Engineering teams are using various technology programs to simulate reality using digital data and augmented reality (AR).

From 3D models to 4D construction animations and sequencing, everything is then rendered for use with NVIDIA Omnisphere. This led to the introduction of game technology, laser scanners, and cameras to build a more immersive experience.

With everything synchronized and running, data can now be used on several platforms. Combining technologies with Digital Twins has the potential to build accurate simulations with realistic environments, and lighting that can be seen on virtual reality (VR) headsets, tablets, and web browsers.

Final Thoughts

Traditionally oriented, conservative companies have stagnated by using the same tried and true tools and processes. Digitizing processes and building an efficient ecosystem is a fantastic way to break out of the mold. Incorporating Digital Twins into the process could be the path forward to truly understanding and optimizing assets and resources.

Digital Twins are a sustainable and effective method to overcome challenges in a variety of industries. Remote working, increased use of BIM, and digitization work with Digital Twins to revolutionize the way things are accomplished. In the long-term, this could lead to advances that completely revolutionize the way we design, construct, and make use of environments.