In an increasingly digitised world, two transformative technologies, digital twins and Building Information Modeling (BIM), are reshaping the way facility managers operate, optimise, and maintain their built environments. This article explores the convergence of digital twins and BIM, shedding light on their revolutionary potential for facility management. We will delve into the concepts of digital twins and BIM, clarifying their definitions and exploring their practical applications in the industry.
What are Digital Twins?
A digital twin is essentially a virtual copy of a product or process that simulates its behaviour and provides detailed insights into how the real system will operate and behave throughout its entire lifecycle. This technology has emerged during the Fourth Industrial Revolution and is highly sought after for the emerging professions of the near future. Virtually anything can have a virtual twin, ranging from an airplane engine, a wind farm, or a house, all the way to an entire city.
However, digital twins are dynamic and “live” visual representations connected to the real system they represent, with a key emphasis on the connection and flow of information between the virtual model and the physical system. It is not merely a traditional 3D model or a model constructed from information; instead, it involves integrated databases that receive data from multiple sources, such as sensors, IoT, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning, and data analysis.
So, it’s appropriate to describe digital twins as virtual mirrors of real physical installations or products. These comprehensive digital representations provide real-time and dynamic data and insights, enabling more effective monitoring, simulation, and optimisation of operations.
Since the mid-20th century, particularly after WWII, mathematical models and emulation technology have been used to simulate complex systems in the military and space development fields. However, the term ‘digital twins’ was first mentioned in 1991 in the book ‘Mirror World’ by computer scientist David Gelernter.
It wasn’t until 2002 when Michael Grieves, from the Florida Institute of Technology, applied this concept to manufacturing, establishing a product life cycle management centre that encompassed both physical and virtual representations of the item in question, facilitating the exchange of information between them. Several years later, in 2010, NASA adopted this technology to create digital simulations of capsules and spacecraft, referring to it as a ‘digital twin’ in their reports.
Despite the well-established presence of digital twin technology in the manufacturing sector, it is still relatively new in the fields of architecture, engineering, and construction. However, it has proven to be extremely useful in the implementation of Building Management Systems (BMS).
The Digital Twin Maturity Levels
According to their level of sophistication, we can say that digital twins operate on five different levels.
- Level 1: Descriptive
The descriptive twin is a connected and editable version of the building data. A visual reproduction of a built object. Users specify what information they want to be included and the type of data they want to extract.
- Level 2: Informative
This twin has an additional layer of operating data and sensors. The digital twin captures, aggregates and verifies data from the different systems that make it up
- Level 3: Predictive
The predictive twin is capable of making recommendations based on the data collected.
- Level 4: Integrated
The twin is capable of generating simulations and answers to “What if” analysis.
- Level 5: Autonomous
At the last level, the twin already has the ability to learn based on the data collected and to take actions on behalf of the users (involves development of artificial intelligence).
In the AEC industry, levels 1 and 2 are currently used effectively while levels 3, 4 and 5, which are enriched with additional layers of data sent in real time from integrated sensors and IoT technologies, are still in development stages.
BIM & Digital Twins
BIM and digital twin technology in the AEC industry may sound similar and be easily confused, but they should be considered as distinct concepts. As defined earlier in this blog, a digital twin is an exact representation of a building in digital form. The simplest way to envision this representation is as a 3D model with associated metadata.
We can digitise an existing building using laser surveys and point clouds that generate a highly accurate as-built model. In fact, this is the initial step towards creating the digital twin of a building. For example, our team had to make a geospatial survey in an industrial facility before producing the BIM model to perform dynamic simulations as can be seen in the next picture
However, an accurate 3D model alone is not the sole requirement; a dynamic and reliable connection to the actual system is necessary to achieve a true digital twin of the building.
Today, by combining various technologies, it is possible to conduct simulations and emulate an installation beyond its 3D representation. This involves integrating different sensors with historical and dynamic databases of the real system. Such integration is highly beneficial for implementing building management systems. Hence, the inclusion of the letter “i” for “information” within the term BIM is crucial for effectively utilising BIM models in the generation of a digital twin.
Architects, engineers, construction companies, and urban planners have long relied on design assistance and BIM software to aid in the creation, planning, and construction of their projects. With the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT), sensors, Big Data, and cloud computing, it is now possible to create “digital twins” of entire cities that exhibit various behaviours and scenarios.
Barriers for Digital Twin’s Adoption
Despite the numerous benefits associated with implementing digital twins in construction projects, there are still technological, economic, and cultural challenges that must be overcome to successfully create one.
Firstly, it is crucial to have access to the appropriate technology to establish and maintain the digital twin’s performance. Secondly, economic barriers pose a significant challenge. Implementing a digital twin often involves a high initial cost, and although the potential return on investment (ROI) can be substantial, some companies may struggle to perceive this, as they are essentially venturing into uncharted territory. Finally, the overall company culture must embrace change and continuous improvement. Without an open mindset towards new initiatives like digital twins, it is unlikely for them to gain traction.
The Role of BIM in Facility Management
The BIM methodology provides a collaborative platform for design, construction, and operation teams to work together efficiently. While BIM is typically associated with the design and construction phases, today a BIM digital twin in the AEC industry is particularly useful in facilities management systems.
How to make a BIM-Digital Twin of the Building for Facility Management
How to build a digital twin depends, of course, on the user’s end goals for this digital environment. With this in mind, a BIM-digital twin that will be used in facility management must follow the roadmap described below.
The process typically begins with a laser scan survey and a comprehensive building survey, enabling the creation of an accurate BIM model of the facilities. Then, it is necessary to develop all the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for the facilities and determine the required sensors and other data connection sources for implementation.
With all that information, it is possible to proceed with data and models integration, either for deploying a new facility management platform or for integrating the improved model into an existing Computer Maintenance Management System (CMMS) environment.
Benefits of BIM in Facility Management
Some benefits of the BIM-digital twins include:
- Visualising and Understanding the Facility
Digital twins combined with BIM allow facility managers to visualise the entire facility virtually, providing a comprehensive overview of its assets, systems, and spaces. This helps in better understanding the building layout and facilitates effective decision-making. In our experience, the virtual graphic environment that can be achieved with a BIM model is a great advantage for presenting an user-friendly interface to the maintenance teams.
- Real-time Monitoring and Maintenance
Digital twins enable facility managers to monitor various parameters, such as energy consumption, temperature, and occupancy levels, in real-time. By leveraging BIM data, managers can identify potential maintenance issues, predict equipment failures, and proactively plan maintenance activities.
- Simulation and Optimisation
With digital twins and BIM, facility managers can simulate different scenarios to optimise energy efficiency, space utilisation, and operational workflows to identify opportunities for improvement.
- Streamlining Collaboration
BIM provides a centralised platform for stakeholders to access and share information throughout the facility lifecycle. In a similar way, digital twins enable seamless communication between facility managers, maintenance teams, and other stakeholders, fostering better communication and decision-making.
- Data-Driven Decision Making
Facility managers can make much more informed decisions based on real-time information by leveraging the rich data provided by digital twins and BIM. Data analysis tools can help identify trends, patterns, and anomalies, allowing managers to optimise operations and drive continuous improvement.
Specifically, it can be said that the implementation of BIM models for facility management empowers maintenance tasks, encouraging users of all levels to use platforms because that makes it easier to obtain information from a virtual environment that is visually much more user-friendly than traditional asset management systems based on spreadsheets and tree-type drop-down schemes.
In the following image you can see a BIM implementation in a CMMS system carried out by part of our team in a large hydroelectric plant in Argentina, where due to the size of the facilities and the complexity of the systems involved, different techniques and procedures had to be combined. software to achieve a functional result.
From our experience, we must mention that in existing facilities, the implementation of a digital twin usually implies, in addition to technical challenges, migrating to new management procedures, for which senior management must be fully committed to driving change.
Digital twins and BIM are transforming the AEC industry, especially in the way facility managers and maintenance teams carry out work on their buildings.
With the availability of new technologies, increasingly powerful software and hardware, and the utilisation of BIM as the foundation for constructing digital twins with realistic virtual environments, facility managers now have access to innovative tools for effectively managing their buildings. They can simulate various scenarios, optimise operations, enhance collaboration between teams, and make data-supported decisions. Furthermore, the integration of digital twins and BIM in facilities management leads to improved efficiency, cost reduction, enhanced occupant comfort, increased workplace safety, and the creation of sustainable built environments.
Forward-thinking companies that strive to maintain a competitive edge are increasingly adopting innovative approaches to enhance their operations, and the use of digital twins represents a cutting-edge tool with numerous untapped benefits. At DCT, we have the expertise and knowledge to assist facility managers in unlocking the full potential of digital twins and BIM. Get in touch with our team today to find out more! www.dctgrp.com/contact
Author: Gerardo J. Olsson
DCT, Argentina Office
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