One of the biggest challenges facing project design and construction is practicality.
Right from the outset, projects must meet owner expectations regarding performance while at the same time aligning with building codes and safety factors.
“Historically, construction has been a highly linear, labour and time-intensive process,” say Daryl Patterson and Bill Ruh of Lendlease Group, a multinational construction, property and infrastructure company headquartered in Sydney, Aus. “Everything from design briefs to detailed architectural line drawings, modelling, testing and iterative changes must be considered before a project can take shape in the physical world. And each step of the process must be communicated between the architect, engineer and construction chains.”
Building Information Modeling (BIM) has certainly helped co-ordinate the communication between project team members. BIM falls short, however, in its ability to test designs in the real world. This is why many see digital twinning as a key to the future of construction. Digital twinning is a concept, not a single software solution. Patterson and Ruh describe it as, “a bridge between the physical and digital world,” a proxy, if you will.
Specific to construction, software company Trimble says digital twinning offers “a critical analytic edge to BIM activity.”
BIM allows the gathering of data from multiple sources, the company says, data that can be integrated into 3D models.
“With the aid of digital twin capabilities, BIM models are evolving to become ‘living,’ automatically updated representations of physical assets they represent,” the company states.
IBM says this, “allows designers to virtually create, test, analyze data, build and monitor a product, thus closing the feedback loop between design and operations.”
This is made possible through the information collected via real-time sensors and supported by the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI).
“When supported by IoT and AI, a digital twin can automatically update according to adjustments made in the real world,” says Trimble. “Digital twins are up-to-date copies of physical objects that deliver information on the object’s properties and states.”
“Digital twins enhance BIM capabilities by allowing truly constructible processes,” say Patterson and Ruh. “Models that can track, store and display complex data on-the-fly help deliver valuable, actionable information to all construction phases and for years to come. From bidding to building, digital twins are the future of getting the job done.”
While this presupposes significant levels of data gathered during the life of the building itself, digital twins can provide important guidance even prior to construction.
For example, Vancouver-based CadMakers used its digital twin development solutions to simulate the onsite assembly of Brock Commons Tallwood House at the University of British Columbia prior to its actual construction. The 18-storey student residence was the tallest mass timber structure in the world when it opened in 2017.
The CadMakers team created fabrication models for the structural and MEP systems and highly detailed elements for all other building systems, resulting in a project delivery 3.5 months ahead of schedule, the company says.
Patterson and Ruh see the preconstruction simulation as particularly important for modularization.
“It can serve as the backbone for prefabrication and as a more significant means for achieving industrialized efficiency,” they state. “The physical performance of a component can be understood before anything is built. Volumes of easily accessible data beyond the core design can be digitally stored and shared among all stakeholders and at all stages. Therefore, designers, who have traditionally been isolated from the construction and downstream manufacturing processes, are provided a collaborative approach and understanding of the project, with technical parameters firmly embedded into the design algorithm.”
The aerospace, defence and automotive industries have been leading the adoption of digital twin technology. Manufacturing, energy and utilities, infrastructure, telecommunications, health care and even agriculture are now coming onboard.
However, there is an expense attached to the technology that presently can only be justified by those owners and developers who understand the long-term value. Therefore, it will remain a procurement challenge for mainstream construction for the time being until evidence of its benefits becomes better known.
John Bleasby is a Coldwater, Ont. based freelance writer. Send comments and Inside Innovation column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.