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What is a digital twin? Examples and tips in construction

A digital twin is a digital representation of a physical object or system and is designed to facilitate and improve decision-making processes. Find out more in this insight

In the digital era, companies are increasingly looking for ways to harness the power of data to improve their business. An emerging concept that help to achieve this goal is the digital twin.

Simply, a digital twin is a digital replica of a physical object or system. With digital models, companies can gain valuable insights about their products. It also improve decision-making by identifying potential improvements before design. This makes the digital twin an incredibly powerful tool for businesses.

What exactly is a digital twin? And how can it help to improve the design?

Learn more in this article and take advantage of the potential of a digital twin software to better manage the modeling process and the entire design.

Let’s start off by taking a look at what exactly is a digital twin and how digital twin technology is transforming the construction industry.

What is a Digital Twin?

A digital twin is a digital representation of a physical object or system, designed to facilitate and improve decision-making processes. It can be created for any kind of object, including industrial machines, buildings, bridges and even human beings.

Typically, digital twins are created from data obtained by sensors and other sources of information. this information are then used to model, simulate, predict, and optimize the behavior and design of the components they represent in real time.

For example, a digital twin can be used to monitor the operation and condition of critical infrastructure systems in real time, such as power grids or traffic control systems. They can also be used to simulate the behavior of complex systems, such as the market economy trends or an advanced manufacturing facility. Overall, digital twins are extremely powerful tools capable of keeping an eye on the behavior of a wide range of systems. This is why they are becoming increasingly popular in many different fields, from engineering to healthcare.

Digital twin technology: examples and fields of application

Digital twins have been widely used in several fields:

  • aerospace and automotive companies have been using this technology for years to design new products and improve existing ones, to monitor vehicle performance and discover ways to reduce energy consumption.
  • Production process digital twins are useful to verify that products meet specific standards before they arrive on the market. It also allows manufacturers to identify problems in advance, so that they can take action before production begins;
  • urban development and urban planning where the digital twin can be used to improve urban infrastructure. Urban planners can compare data from sensors located throughout the city (traffic patterns, pollution levels, or pedestrian trampling) with historical data stored in the cloud or elsewhere. This allows to better understand how cities function, identify potential problems, and improve their sustainability and efficiency.

What is a digital twin in construction, engineering and architecture?

One sector that has been able to benefit greatly from the advantages brought by digital twins is that of construction, and that is why the use of digital twins is becoming increasingly common in building projects.

Digital twin building

digital twin building

Digital twin are used in construction projects and they can serve as input for the planning and design phases of future projects or to add more value to construction already built.

In the first case, you virtually “build” the asset before than in reality. This means that one is able to simulate everything that orbits around the construction of an asset, identifying, even before the construction site begins, any potential clashes and inconveniences and thus achieving significant time and cost savings.

The second case refers to the digital reproduction of a built heritage asset. Virtually reproducing a built asset by reaching such a level of detail that we can speak of a digital twin, allows this model to be used for future projects, rehabilitation and restoration projects or to plan its management and maintenance.

The digital twins therefore, provide numerous advantages throughout the life cycle of a building:

  • during the design phase can be used to test different scenarios and identify the optimal one for the purpose of construction, reducing design time and costs;
  • on site, they can be used to monitor the construction process and identify any problems in advance, ensuring that the project is completed on time and on budget;
  • during the maintenance, the digital twin is continuously enriched with data and becomes a faithful reproduction of reality. In this stage the digital twin allows to identify any problems in a timely manner and helps to prolong the life of a building by reducing operating costs.

BIM vs Digital Twin: What’s the Difference?

Digital twins and BIM models are both digital representations of physical objects, but they differ in terms of functionality and purpose.

A BIM model is a digital representation of a physical object or system that is used for planning, design, and construction purposes and can contain data such as dimensions, material properties and construction specifications.

Digital twins are dynamic models that can be used to monitor and manage the performance of physical objects in real time. It can be derived from a BIM model, but this require additional data sources to be fully functional and therefore is often used in the context of IoT.

BIM vs digital twin

Digital twin sv BIM

Ultimately, digital twins and BIM models both represent the digital version of physical objects, but differ in purpose: digital twins are typically used for monitoring and management, while BIM models are primarily used for planning and design.

Digital twin and IoT: the winning combination for the digitization of buildings

IoT plays a very important role in creating and managing the digital twin for a construction project. Through sensors and devices connected to the internet, IoT can help ensure that all aspects of the project are closely monitored and controlled.

The BIM digital twin enriched with data from IoT sensors can be used to:

  • analyze how the construction project is progressing and identify potential problems in advance;
  • make decisions on how to optimize the performance of the asset;
  • help improve site safety by providing real-time data on potential hazards.

Overall, IoT provides the digital glue that can tie systems and data sources to create the digital twin of the physical world. When applied to construction it can provide a real-time view of the project that helps improve communication between contractors and stakeholders. It also provides valuable data for the continuous improvement of construction projects.

Tips to better implement a digital twin in a constrcution project

As mentioned, a digital twin is the digital representation of an asset. To convert a common 3D model into the digital twin of an asset, it is necessary that it contains all the information, data, and material layers of the real asset reaching a level of detail corresponding to LOD 500.

Therefore, to create a digital twin, it is essential integrating the various design disciplines of the construction industry (structural, architectural, MEP, etc.) and to simultaneously use multiple technologies such as laser scanners, sensors, BIM methodology, and intelligent objects based on the Internet of Things (IoT). By connecting sensors to physical assets, construction managers can collect real-time data that can be used to improve project management and construction maintenance.

But how to implement a digital twin and an IoT solution?

Digital twin AECO

digital twin in the AECO

First, you need to create a digital replica of your project through BIM software. Now you have a digital model and this needs to be populated with data. This data can come from a variety of sources, including sensors, drones, and traditional detection methods. The collected data should be integrated into the digital model through a cloud platform. Finally, it will be necessary to continuously monitor and update the digital model as the construction project evolves.

To make this implementation extremely simple I recommend you to choose a BIM management system that allows you to go through all these activities in a perfectly integrated process:

  • view and analyze the data collected by IoT sensors directly on the digital twin (BIM IoT platform);
  • enrich the BIM model with additional significant data for monitoring;
  • keep track of all the data through a business intelligence system. You to create detailed reports, analysis of the activities, and manage the tickets until closing (BIM facility management).