Digital twins: advancing building visualization
While “digital twins” will probably never be part of my typical lexicon, technology is finding its way into more of my conversations with customers. Many owners are now accustomed to visualizing their buildings during design and construction, but the popularity of digital twins goes even further. Imagine being able to observe your most important asset in real time from anywhere in the world, using this data not only for operations and maintenance, but also to prepare for future projects. The million dollar question is how do you turn the 3D content you’ve extracted from BIM into material that can do all of this? This is where AM King comes in.
A BIM AND DIGITAL TWINS TECHNOLOGY PRIMER
In recent years, Building Information Modeling (BIM) has become the industry standard for design drafting. The transition from CAD to BIM is a passage from representative lines to the creation of a virtual model composed of three-dimensional objects loaded with information specific to these objects. With this change, we can generate virtual geometry that is accurately representative of real-world objects. BIM technology has improved the efficiency of all aspects of the design and construction industry and provides benefits to architects, engineers, builders and owners. BIM is an extremely powerful tool during the design and construction phases of a building’s life cycle; however, it is not intended for use beyond that.
BIM is static and has limited utility to an owner once construction is complete and operations begin, unless it evolves into a digital twin.
A digital twin is a dynamic digital 3D model of a real-world physical entity that is continuously updated by live data captured from physical space. This technology, which is on the verge of becoming a key IT tool, can provide owners with insight into the operation of the building. According to the Research And Markets 2022 report, the global digital twin market is expected to reach $155,839.4 million by 2030, registering a CAGR of 39.1% from 2022 to 2030.
Regardless of the application or industry a digital twin is used for, the following components are required, according to one of my favorite Unreal Engine articles. They are the physical entity of the real world; data collected from the physical entity and surrounding processes that are also linked to its digital counterpart; the 3D digital representation of the physical entity; and a software program that processes incoming data and applies it to model objects.
The two-way data flow between the digital model and the physical object is key. This allows the digital twin to not only monitor and mimic the precise current conditions of its real-world counterpart, but also to evaluate collected data and inform optimization decisions. Digital twin technology is even capable of automating data-driven decisions.
TWINS FOLLOWS BIM
AM King is in a unique position to take advantage of digital twins. We are already using BIM when designing and building our customers’ facilities, many of whom could greatly benefit from incorporating this logical next step. In fact, according to Autodesk, “BIM is the most efficient route to creating an accurate, high-value digital twin.”
When it is known during design that a client is interested in a digital twin, we can prepare the design creation model to turn into a digital twin easily accessible by non-technical users.
From a design-build perspective, the focus is on the performance of the building and future buildings, while recognizing the processes that take place within the facility.
The content of a digital model must be adapted to include elements important to the customer’s operations. In addition to the building itself, a digital twin can include things like mechanical systems, electrical equipment, safety devices, equipment and machinery, materials, products, conveying systems, and even people. . Owners who understand the value of digital twins are excited about the possibilities and enjoy setting goals with us.
DIGITAL TWINS APPLICATIONS
A digital twin is a very open concept and can be fully customized to meet almost any need – from simply monitoring and providing descriptive data output to simulating “what-if” conditions to real-world physical entity control. While it’s important to know the variety of uses for digital twins, we focus on applications that will benefit our niche markets.
Food processing and manufacturing companies, for example, can make the most of a process-based digital twin. This type of twin allows owners to analyze the performance of certain parts of the process, visualize the impact of separate processes on each other, and determine methods to optimize the process as a whole. A manufacturing customer probably wants to know that their employees are staying safe while keeping production on track. By analyzing how people interact with industrial processes, management can find ways to mitigate risks to employees. The primary concern of a food processing facility owner or manager is food safety. By optimizing the process, efficiency can be maximized, thereby limiting potential quality degradation.
A food distribution company may find more value in an informative twin. This type of customer would likely implement a digital twin to continuously monitor climate conditions in cold stores.
With this capability, facility managers can verify that their products are stored at the correct temperatures and product integrity is always protected. If conditions are found to be less than ideal, users can manipulate the physical system through the twin. With this technology, facility managers and executives would stay informed and take necessary action.
When I joined AM King several years ago, I was asked to help revitalize a 3D model for a manufacturing client in South Carolina. This client had made a significant investment in creating what he called an “as built” model. Little did they know they had started creating a digital twin. By purchasing a scan of the building and all the equipment in it, they had created the digital base of a twin. Because they were unable to effectively maintain this model, they decided to build on their already successful relationship with AM King. Our first task was to bring the model back to current conditions, followed by conversations with the client’s senior management about what data to capture in the future and what software to use to process that data. We are now in the process of establishing a data link between the physical building and the machines and the 3D model. Once complete, the customer will own a digital twin of their installation.
Generally, a digital twin will improve users’ experience with the data they are accustomed to monitoring and tracking by providing smarter output, holistic content, and enhanced visualization. Once developed and understood, many users look for additional features that will continue to improve operation and maintenance goals. This is how a digital twin can continue to evolve, bringing value to current operations as well as future renovations, extensions and new installations.
JEnnifer Buchanan is a BIM Modeler with Carolina-based AM King, a leading integrated design-build firm with offices in Charlotte, NC, Greenville, SC, and Chicago, IL. She fulfills both the role of project coordinator on multiple manufacturing and distribution projects and manages BIM for all active projects. A graduate of UNC Charlotte, Buchanan has a background in architectural technology and civil engineering. She has over 10 years of experience in BIM technologies and enjoys learning about technological innovations that can improve the outcome of the complex projects AM King is known for.