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BIM and Digital Twin: key differences and uses in the AECO industry

BIM and Digital Twin: key differences and uses in the AECO industry

Both BIM and Digital Twins are digital representations of physical assets but differ in the construction phase at which they are used. Find out all about the top 5 uses in the AECO industry

You’re likely already aware of how Digital Twins are becoming a key differentiator for firms in the AEC industry and are even more familiar with the concept of Building Information Modeling (BIM). We know for sure that both are the digital information version of an asset, but then what’s the difference between a BIM model and a digital twin?

Learn how change will impact your industry in this article analyzing not only the differences between the two models but also their five main uses in the AECO industry and how their integration through BIM management systems, provides great benefits to all the professionals involved.

What is Building Information Modeling?

Building Information Modeling, often referred to by the acronym BIM, is a design methodology based on a 3D model integrated with a construction-related information package that includes its physical, performance and functional data.

In the AECO industry, therefore, applying the BIM methodology means taking a holistic approach to the creation and management of a 3D model that contains all the information related to construction. The model produced through the implementation of this process will contain information related to all disciplines – structure, architecture and MEP – and will consequently facilitate coordination and collaboration between the professionals involved in the project workflow.

The BIM model that is obtained can be continuously updated and is useful for the production of documentation while also being used in every phase of the asset’s life cycle, from planning to the disposal and adaptive reuse. Having a digital information model represents a huge advantage in the world of construction. In fact, through a BIM model it is possible, for instance, to perform:

  • clash detection;
  • time and cost analysis;
  • maintenance plans;
  • structural and energy analysis;
  • site simulations.

All this translates into savings in terms of time and costs, both in the design and construction phases and even O&M.

BIM and Digital Twins

Building Information Modeling

What is a Digital Twin?

A Digital Twin is the digital representation of a physical object or system, designed to facilitate and improve decision-making processes.

The digital twin, therefore, digitally refers to an asset in its entirety and complexity, including both geometry and information from sensors and other sources that allow the dynamic acquisition of data.

It works digitally exactly like its real counterpart, enabling, throughout the asset’s life cycle, to simulate design hypotheses by improving the decision-making process of the various professionals involved in the project and the various stakeholders.

BIM Vs. Digital Twins

Understandably there has been confusion within the industry about how to differentiate these two important technologies.

If, on one hand, both digital twins and BIM models are digital representations of physical spaces, it is also true that there is a fundamental difference between the two: BIM models are used to manage an asset from its conception until its demolition, the digital twin instead allows virtual interaction with that asset and is therefore typically used only during the monitoring and management of the asset.

BIM processes and digital twin strategies are built on a number of common principles; both are concerned with improving process visibility, aligning stakeholders and supporting planning.

In practice, the BIM model is a real information container, which can be updated in all phases of work management and which contains a large amount of useful and necessary data for the entire life cycle of the work. The Digital Twin, on the other hand, is a digital 3D model that represents the existing building as a whole, with an extremely photorealistic rendering of physical space, and aims to dynamically and in real time track any changes in the good. This helps the project team to trace the fundamental stages of the life cycle of the work and to acquire a deep understanding of the asset.

We could say that BIM is a much broader concept (it includes data and technical and geometric information related to the design, construction and management of the asset, information, data, geometry, etc.) than the Digital Twin which instead represents only a very sectorial use of the BIM model. Digital Twins, in fact, is nothing more than the use of the BIM model integrated with IoT sensors and other digital solutions that allow access to real-time data on the construction system, allowing digital twins to act as a visual replica that accurately captures the physical characteristics of the asset.

Five uses of Digital Twin and BIM in the AECO industry

BIM and Digital Twin models both find different applications in the construction industry. Here are the top five uses:

  • asset performance monitoring: the interaction between digital twins and BIM enables you to monitor construction systems performance. By connecting sensors to the digital model of a building, potential malfunctions can be identified before any damage occurs. For example, if a sensor detects a water leak, the digital twin can be used to determine where it is located and how to fix it;
  • predicting the life cycle of a construction: digital twins can be used to predict the life cycle of an asset and plan its maintenance ad hoc. If, for example, the digital twin foresees the need for equipment to be replaced in five years, it is possible to carry out the maintenance plan on the basis of this information and consequently also foresee the corresponding expense;
  • feasibility of virtual prototyping for project optimization: Digital twins can be used to create “virtual prototypes” of new buildings or building renovations. By creating a digital model of the proposed project, designers can test the feasibility of the project and optimize the design. For example, an architect designing a new office building can use a digital twin to test how the structure will respond to different weather conditions;
  • monitoring systems use and regulation: digital twins can monitor the level of use of space and on the basis of the data gathered, it is possible to adjust the heating, cooling and lighting systems accordingly. By analyzing how and when people use a building, digital twins can help managers save energy and improve comfort;
  • increased security in buildings: Digital twins can be used to enhance security within a building. By monitoring the movements of people and equipment, digital twins can help project managers identifying potential hazards and respond to emergencies in a timely manner. If, for example, the Digital Twin shows, in real time, that a person is in a restricted and therefore dangerous area of the building, the security system can be activated to protect that person.

The BIM-Digital Twin model is therefore a powerful tool that can provide numerous advantages for professionals in the AECO industry.

Which are the benefits of integrating BIM and Digital Twin?

BIM and Digital Twin are linked despite their differences. Digital Twin places an emphasis on asset management and operation while BIM is more concerned with design and building processes. From greater cost control and improved performance, to empowered teams across a project, the advantages of using BIM processes to create evolving digital twins can be huge. When combined, organization can achieve further project efficiency and deliver greater value in terms of:

  • reducing the time needed to collect measurements and allocate resources;
  • increased productivity and collaboration;
  • reducing costs and time associated with frequent on-site visits;
  • building visualization not only in the planning phase, but throughout its life cycle with consequent enhancement of the decision-making phases.

To conclude, the integration between BIM and Digital Twin allows construction industry professionals to rely on digitized virtual representation of their asset, in all phases of its life cycle, from planning to management. If you also want to make the most of the combination of two powerful technologies such as Digital Twin and BIM processes, all you have to do is to try for free a professional and versatile digital twin software to manage any phase of your project’s life cycle.