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Digital Twins in the AEC Industry: Beyond the Buzzword

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The Built Environment and Digital Twins

The built environment refers to human-made surroundings, encompassing everything from buildings to infrastructure. In the complex and fragmented AEC (Architecture, Engineering, Construction) industry, digital twins are emerging as a transformative tool. But what exactly are digital twins, and how do they fit into the AEC landscape? This post will explore the concept, breaking down misconceptions and highlighting their practical applications.

The AEC/FM industry faces challenges in information exchange across organisational boundaries. Building Information Modeling (BIM) has helped address fragmentation, but the industry is now exploring the combination of BIM with the Internet of Things (IoT) to create digital twins. This integration offers enhanced visibility for asset monitoring, predictive maintenance, simulations of future states, and better documentation.

Understanding Digital Twins

Digital twins are still maturing in the AEC/FM context. Camposana et al. explored the unique complexity of digital twins through seven metaphors to help simplify the concept, including the mirror, shadow, twin, agent, avatar, proxy, and soul. These metaphors provide insights into the dynamic nature of digital twins, emphasising their role as complex software ecosystems that integrate information, co-create value, and deliver new products or services. Read more about their research here.

Imagine you have a toy car. Now, imagine you make a copy of that car on your computer or tablet, where you can see it, play with it, and even test how it runs without touching the real car. This copy on your device is like a “digital twin” of your real toy car. People use digital twins for big things like airplanes, buildings, or machines to test and understand them better without having to touch the real thing!

Information Standardisation: The First Hurdle

Before diving into the world of digital twins, information standardisation is a crucial step. It ensures that data is consistent, accurate, and accessible across different platforms and stakeholders. Without standardised information, the potential of digital twins remains untapped.

The need for standardisation is paramount in the ever-evolving landscape of the AEC industry. We need a collaborative approach, building upon existing standards like Uniclass, Omniclass, VBIS, and AusHFG, rather than constantly reinventing the wheel. As it is, those classification systems alone are more than enough. Open-source collaborative platforms are vital, providing a foundation that can be enhanced and adapted. Unfortunately, the pursuit of the “next big thing” to make a name in the industry often leads to creating new systems that only add to confusion and dysfunction.

If the energy spent on these endeavours were redirected towards improving and consolidating existing systems, the industry would find itself in a much more cohesive and functional place. The path to progress isn’t paved with fragmentation; it’s built on the bedrock of unified standards and shared vision.

With improved information standardisation, integrating AI, Machine Learning, and Big Data Analytics with digital twins becomes an exciting frontier. It enables the creation of dynamic models that can learn and update the status of the physical counterpart. This convergence of technologies offers unprecedented opportunities for predictive insights and real-time monitoring.

Misunderstanding of Digital Twin

Common misunderstandings about digital twins persist, such as the belief that a digital twin does not exist without a physical object. Recognising that digital twins can be much more than a single piece of software is important. They can be complex ecosystems with different inputs, outputs, connectors to IoT, dashboards, and more.

Imagine building a LEGO house.

BIM (Building Information Modeling) is like the instructions for the LEGO house. It tells you how to build it, what pieces to use, and even gives you information about each piece.

A digital twin is like a copy of your finished LEGO house on your computer. Once the house is built, you can see how sunlight falls on it, how wind affects it, or even how people might move inside it, all on your computer.

So, BIM helps in designing and building, while a digital twin helps in understanding and managing the finished building. They’re closely related, but not quite the same thing.

Sad Keanu Digital Twin Lego

Business Perspective and Practical Considerations

From a business standpoint, digital twins offer significant benefits. However, not every company requires one. Understanding what a digital twin can do for you and why you do or don’t need one is vital. Some may want a comprehensive solution, while others may prefer a simpler variation. It’s about finding the right fit for your needs.

Digital twins are revolutionising the AEC industry, but they are not a one-size-fits-all solution. By understanding the complexity, standardisation challenges, integration possibilities, and common misconceptions, we can make informed decisions about their implementation. Whether you’re considering a full-fledged digital twin software ecosystem or a simpler variation, understanding your needs and the potential benefits is key to success.

What are your thoughts on the digital twin landscape? Can you see the tangible benefits, or does it feel like just another buzzword in a sales pitch? The future of our industry hinges on collaboration, understanding, and a shared commitment to standards that serve us all. Whether you’re already immersed in digital twins or just starting to explore the possibilities, your insights matter. Join the conversation, share your experiences, and let’s shape the future of digital twins together. Because it’s not just about technology; it’s about building a better, more connected industry.

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