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Virtual twin vs digital twin: main differences

Virtual twin and digital twin: two strategic tools for digital innovation in construction. Discover applications and differences

The ability to create and use an exact digital copy of a physical asset or process improves numerous activities and sectors (commerce, health, construction, etc.) by accelerating development and simplifying operations. Alongside the digital twin, a new interactive digital model is also gaining ground in recent years: the virtual twin.

Let’s delve into this article together to explore all the differences between virtual and digital twin and discover how they will help you improving your workflow.

What is a digital twin in construction?

In the AECO industry, a digital twin is a digital representation of any real construction, be it a building, a bridge, or a road. It faithfully replicates every aspect of the construction such as the structure, design, materials, geometries, operational data, etc. and is based on the use of sensors and IoT (Internet of Things) devices to collect real-time data from the structure itself. This data is then used to create a digital replica that reflects the current conditions and performance of the structure.

It is used by technicians and operators with the intention of:

  • facilitating and improving decision-making;
  • improving energy efficiency;
  • monitoring and analyzing the behavior of the building over time;
  • improving equipment management;
  • supporting planning;
  • simulating new interventions.
Digital Twin of a building: data and information

Digital Twin of a building: data and information

What is a virtual twin in construction?

In construction, a “virtual twin” refers to an advanced digital simulation of a building or construction project before it is actually built. This tool, based on digital technologies and sophisticated software, is a detailed virtual replica of the structure in question. With virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR), the model can be explored and interacted with all its components.

Through the virtual twin, it is possible to have a more engaging and detailed view of the building, facilitating collaboration among the various players in the construction industry, including architects, engineers, and clients. Thanks to an extremely detailed 3D modeling of the building in the design phase, stakeholders can explore the building virtually and gain a complete understanding of how it will appear once completed. This improvement in communication helps to avoid costly errors and ensure that everyone has a clear project vision.

Virtual twin vs digital twin: which are the main differences?

The comparison between a virtual and a digital twin in the construction industry highlights a series of key differences in terms of purpose, level of detail, usage phase, and technologies. Here is a detailed analysis of the main differences between these two concepts:

  1. purpose and usage phase:
    the virtual twin is mainly used in the design and planning phase of a building or construction project before it is actually built. It is a static and anticipated digital representation of the construction project and serves to explore and evaluate it virtually, making informed decisions before the start of construction. In this regard, a virtual reality software in architecture can be very useful. The digital twin, on the other hand, is generally used during the operational and maintenance phase of the building or construction structure for real-time resource monitoring and making informed decisions based on data;
  2. level of detail:
    digital twins are generally very detailed and precise, including real-time data and feedback from sensors and other sources, while virtual twins may not have the same level of precision;
  3. use in the construction lifecycle:
    the virtual twin is more prominent in the early stages of the construction lifecycle, i.e., in the design and planning. The digital twin is relevant in the later stages of the construction lifecycle, i.e., during operation, maintenance, and any renovation or update of the building;
  4. technologies used:
    the digital twin is based on advanced data models and software to reflect the actual operation and performance of the building, now almost always involving the Internet of Things (IoT) to collect real-time data and advanced analytics for data processing. The virtual twin mainly uses immersive technologies such as virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) to create a visual and interactive experience that allows users to explore the virtual environment engagingly.

Virtual twin and digital twin are both essential concepts in the construction industry, and the combination of both can lead to complete and improved management of the construction lifecycle.

How to create and manage a digital twin in construction?

Creating and managing a digital twin in the construction industry requires a well-structured approach and the use of a suitable software, such as a digital twin software, which is able to optimize your workflow. As a matter of fact, it enables you to:

  • interact with the BIM model, assimilating all the data on the structure (design information, materials used, floor plans, technical specifications, and operational data);
  • integrate with IoT, to collect real-time data on performance, energy efficiency, and other relevant parameters, which will be essential for continuous monitoring and updating of the digital twin;
  • manage data, storing and organizing information to keep constant track of it;
  • monitor updates of the digital twin to identify sudden issues and anomalies;
  • simulate different conditions and scenarios;
  • constantly collaborate with the work team, architects, engineers, clients;
  • protect data, to ensure security and avoid privacy breaches.
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