What are digital twins and why do we need them? 

There’s no doubt that digital twins have been an innovative technical development in the construction world. With their endless ability, the way that we design, construct, and manage buildings have been completely enhanced.

Digital twins are a necessity for helping contractors, developers, engineers, owners and manufacturers create more efficient structures. They can help throughout the entire lifecycle of a building, right through from planning and design, to construction, occupation and maintenance.

A digital twin is exactly what it says on the tin. Data is taken from a building and collated digitally, to build a data model which replicates it entirely. This data includes everything about the built assets, the spaces they occupy and their operational performance, creating a live digital version of its counterpart. As the building has refurbishments and adaptions to it, the digital twin should be updated accordingly to keep it as an exact copy.

Taking digital twins to the next level, an ‘informative’ digital twin has an additional layer of operational and sensory data that gives us access to real-time activity within the building. Sensors strategically placed allows the digital twin to update itself and flag any aging or faulty areas that needs maintenance or improvement. For example, if a HVAC system is declining in age and efficiency, the digital twin can detect any malfunctions or deterioration so that its lifespan can be estimated, giving advanced warning for attention. This can help facility managers to act proactively and reduce the amount of costly emergency repairs.

If Grenfell had had a digital twin, a black box if you like, then there would be no need for a lengthy investigation. All decisions and sign offs would have been captured and recorded, providing a clear line of accountability through the golden thread of information. Had such processes been in place during the contract then perhaps the disaster may have never occurred.  Even the simplest form of a digital twin could have helped saved lives.

More advanced digital twins can predict high-end insights and simulate scenarios for potential occurrences. The aim for the future is that digital twins can act on behalf of a buildings’ users to signal alarms, restrict security measures, and subjectively control building services systems.

It’s possible to integrate digital twins into a community to compare functionality and combine the intelligence to enhance the area’s efficiency and environmental impacts. Comparing and sharing data can even help to develop the surrounding area, suggesting improvements for more than just the buildings, showing the scale of green spaces and biodiversity and other helpful environmental implementations.

Digital twins are an amazing tool to provide insights on an existing building, but we should also be using digital twins for buildings that are under construction and before the groundworks begin. The predictive and accurate analysis can be hugely beneficial to site professionals who can use it to predict material and labour costs, reduce waste and even check for missing or conflicting information. At a design stage, architects and developers can use them to make their ideas come to life and to consider more than just the materials in the build but the other systems that the building will need.

With creating digital twins for construction, we have everything we need to know collated in one place. As a client, there’s a reduced need for visiting the site as you can see the progression digitally. Project managers and main contractors have complete transparency to the build and are more in control of the data.

They can offer so much more in terms of maintenance and occupation but also a variety of services to many construction professionals, providing extended knowledge of our buildings and pushing their capabilities. This level of intelligent technology can contribute to keeping occupied buildings safe for users and give us detailed data on the use and function of the building. Without them, we can question whether the construction industry can progress much further. With them, the possibilities are endless.