APPROACH TO THE DIGITAL TWIN FOR THE AECO SECTOR, BEYOND BIM
Authors: Fernando Morales, Frederic Gil, Gonzalo Garriga, Efren Garcia, Juan Ruiz, Brandon Quiroz
In this article we want to help with the correct definition of what a digital twin is from an evolutionary point of view, since its standardization and evolution is booming today, and specifically the application of digital twins on our AECO sector.
What is a Digital Twin? We are in an exciting moment where we see in real time how the rise of a new technology is being defined and brewing. In reality, it is not that new, but it is as it usually happens in many cases, a concept that already existed with success stories within the reach of very few, such as NASA itself, which is becoming less exclusive in its evolution. But now is the time when we have a perfect storm that makes us go in 1 year (before the COVID 19 pandemic until today) to talk about digital twins as something new but distant and whimsical, to something that is of urgent need to address and implement. The big technological multinationals take positions, but this new paradigm shift is so important that there are neutral grounds where these organizations, together with entities from multiple fields, governments, public bodies, research centres and start-ups that have a lot to say on the subject, we put ourselves agreed to standardize and accelerate the emergence of the era of digital twins.
But what is and what is not a digital twin? Or more importantly, what is it for and who will use it? We will try to give our vision on the matter and how in BIM6D we are getting to have an interesting approach in our opinion, and that is that the digital twin is destined to completely renew our sector with prosperity, thanks to the adoption of digitization as an agent of change and connecting our sector with others in a transversal way. In fact, we dare to say that the extensive use of digital twins will bring with it a new evolutionary era at all levels, the closest thing to a new Renaissance movement because, as in the Quattrocento, multiple cultural, economic and thought aspects converge, and there will be certain “patrons” who will value new techniques, in their day the perspective, mathematics and geometry that were beginning to be applied to art, but also architecture, then brought a breath of fresh air and a new form to see what surrounds us. Well, saving the distances, once again the applied technique converges in a different and disruptive way, a few precursors that will serve as a reference, but at the end of the day a movement that will spread strongly and from which we will all benefit.
Before starting with our brushstrokes on the matter, we can advance that the Digital Twin is traveling a path in its implementation that is aimed at society itself, based on information technology applied in multiple formats and layers of depth and relationships, whose Its scope is global, although it begins with very specific success stories and partial development, it will be extended to the level of neighbourhoods, cities and the political territory itself, but for this it is necessary to join the path that other countries have already taken as soon as possible. started to roam.
Another characteristic of the digital twin is its ability to capture the attention and interest of users, and this is thanks to the power of data visualization and the integrated use of digitization as a dynamic agent, we have discovered that the complex becomes a lot simpler and more attractive for any user if the information is integrated on the virtual representation of what it represents and what it acts on, and as an example we did not want to miss the opportunity to prepare a small demo that illustrates what we are talking about:
with Autodesk Forge by our team at BIM6D, represents a piece of an interconnected smart city, where multiple productive sectors and commonly used by citizens are monitored in real time and available at the service of the user, who could consume this data depending on your profile of needs, or serve for strategic decision-making by the authorities in the long or short term, such as acting on multiple emergency services and taking actions for the safety of people if an incident is triggered , or in the longer term, make urban regeneration decisions more effectively to enhance certain socio-economic aspects.
With the digital twin we will be able to anticipate the future based on the crossing and advanced calculation of Big Data, which is the direct consequence of the digitization that is already taking place in all sectors, the key is to integrate them all, control them in a unified way and provide them with tools that make the information accessible and usable, the more people and organizations the better, and for that we must work the art of apparent simplicity over the complex.
Surely one of the first most relevant use cases of the digital twin, without calling it that, has been carried out by NASA in its first steps towards space exploration in 1960, where they first experimented with “pairing technologies”, a predecessor term of the digital twin, but that allowed NASA engineers to save the Apollo 13 mission.
But the first time we see the term used has been in David Gelernter’s book “Mirror Worlds” from 1991 (1), where he describes a future where he anticipates that people will see reality through a computer screen. Later, in 2002, Michael Grieves (2) from the Florida Institute of Technology applied the concept of the digital twin in the manufacturing sector where he proposed the digital twin as a conceptual model for product life cycle management (PLM).
The concept, as is often the case, materialized under different names before John Vickers of NASA rescued again the finished “digital twin” in 2010. Today, NASA uses digital twins to develop new recommendation systems, sheets of route and the control and management of “new generation” unmanned, land and air vehicles.
After a decade, the term digital twin has been applied in a wide range of uses and industries such as architecture, engineering, manufacturing, healthcare, mobility, aeronautics, etc.
Mission Control Center, Houston (fuente: NASA, 1965)
3. CURRENT REFERENCES
The digital twin is becoming one of the most important technologies due to its potential to improve the behaviour of systems, processes and services, through the monitoring, remote control and simulation of any type of asset, but what exactly is a digital twin? Some of the most prestigious organizations working on the standardization of digital twin technologies already have their own definitions and considerations:
“A digital twin is a representation of real-world entities and their processes, synchronized with a certain frequency and fidelity” (Digital Twin Consortium)
“A digital twin (DT) – also referred to as digital shadow, digital replica, or digital mirror – is a digital representation of a physical asset. Linked to each other, the physical and digital twin regularly exchange data through the PBOD (Performance-Based-Optimum-Design) lifecycle and use phase. Technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, sensors and the Internet of Things (IoT) allow data collection and exchange to take place at the right time. ” (Building Smart International)
“Unlike static data models, digital twins are dynamic,” living “entities that evolve in real time. They learn, update, and communicate with their physical counterparts by exchanging data throughout the asset lifecycle using artificial intelligence, machine learning, and IoT technologies. Armed with these dynamic simulations, users of these virtual twins can fix problems before they happen, explore new opportunities and plan for the future. ” (Autodesk)
“A digital twin is a virtual representation of an object or system that spans its life cycle, is updated through the use of real-time data, and uses simulations, machine learning, and reasonable aid to help make decisions” (IBM)
“The ultimate vision of the digital twin is to create, test and build our equipment in a virtual environment” (John Vickers, NASA)
4. DIGITAL TWIN IN AECO
Continuing with the appointments to large organizations immersed in the standardization of the digital twin, but in this case about our sector, we would like to highlight two in particular:
“A digital twin combines data that describes the physical in digital form. Within the construction sector, a digital twin is a realistic representation of assets, their processes and systems” (Digital Built Britain)
And finally, a Microsoft graphic that was shown in one of the dissemination sessions at the Digital Twin Consortium, an organization of which we have been members since 2020, where it explains the life cycle of assets from the point of view of data type that are exploited throughout the asset’s life cycle:
Data life cycle in the construction sector. (Source: Salla Eckhard, Microsoft, 2019) (3)
This graph represents a common data environment (CDE) used in the life cycle of projects whose utility consists in “discovering” (interesting term) the most efficient methodology in resources (economic and material) to deconstruct the physical asset and return it to rebuild and renew to be more efficient until the end of its life cycle. If you look at points 9, 10 and 11, the digital twin is not an end in itself, but is used to introduce improvements, renew the asset and improve its processes and this is thanks to real-time simulations on it. physical asset and the power to develop a strategy of cause-effect interventions, to achieve this objective and extend and improve its behaviour.
And for all this, in BIM6D we do nothing but surprise ourselves in part because from our origins, back in 2015, without knowing this denomination of digital twin but other related ones, our vocation without knowing it was to work in this line from the first moment , our own name and brand, BIM6D Consulting & Performance, was aimed at developing digitization services and products aimed at improving the behaviour of assets throughout their life cycle (building performance) based on the creation of digital models, management of the information and simulations that we soon discovered that they were not limited to energy, but organizing and structuring the databases of the life cycle by dimensions (dimensions of BIM relative to multiple uses of digital twins) and where the sixth dimension is the more ambitious in terms of data exploitation, because to improve the behaviour of assets we cannot limit ourselves to static data s, but we have to work with hourly or even higher frequency data, analyse multiple variables that influence the behaviour of assets, and integrate in an automated way the results of certain simulation and calculation software on digital models. Well, we are on the right path towards the so-called “Level 3” where we will work in the cloud with digital twins dedicated to improving the behaviour of the asset and where in the famous graph of maturity levels from CAD to BIM, at “Level 3” a see who dares, we have to replace the word iBIM with “DIGITAL TWIN“:
BIM maturity levels 1-4 (BSI, 2013)
We therefore see that for us the digital twin with respect to BIM is not a substitute, it is an evolutionary advance in the level of maturity of a digital transformation, so that neither CAD nor BIM will disappear, but we will go further thanks to the adoption of this new technology.
For us, then, a digital twin, today (which will certainly not be the same in a few years) the digital twin for AECO that we can already put into practice is defined as:
“A digital ecosystem that integrates existing technologies dedicated to the management and improvement of the behaviour of assets, which automatically process data that comes from the real asset such as sensors, asset management systems and maintenance (BMS, EMS, CMMS, Scada, etc. ), resource and business managers (ERP, CRM) and other platforms, and that are integrated with a common data environment (CDE) so that we can represent data analytics in a synchronized way on BIM, GIS and other digital environments, operate from the cloud and offer multiplatform applications to remotely manage assets (mobile, web, VR, AR, etc.). So that the difference between this digital ecosystem and the digital twin is the ability to simulate and predict the future of the systems and processes it manages, through the use of Big Data and artificial intelligence and thus be able to make decisions in real time based on the information obtained”.
And what is not a digital twin? Well, with these definitions, BIM models are not digital twins, we even know that without BIM there were already digital twins, what happens is that in our sector it makes a lot of sense to make BIM the stone angle that serves as a collaborative environment in the first place and as a receiver of that information for its location and easy understanding, but it is not the only piece of a digital twin at all. In the same way, the IoT, or the BMS or CMMS systems themselves are not either, since they analyse specific aspects more or less efficiently but the magic of the digital twin consists of crossing multiple processes that did not interact with each other, so that If we have an integrating platform for this, and we automatically analyse such amount of information, we can “discover” (the term used by Microsoft due to the capabilities of Big Data data services called “Data Discovery“) patterns behaviour based on rules, receive notifications when the KPI (Key Performance Indicator) exceed predefined thresholds and be able to act on devices and systems remotely, among other functionalities.
In BIM6D this digital ecosystem has a name in the form of a product: POWERBIM, whose infographic that summarizes at a glance how the functions (uses) and databases that it manages are organized are shown below:
POWERBIM infographic, digital twin ecosystem (BIM6D Consulting & Performance, 2019) (4)
To conclude the definitions chapter, it should be noted that first of all the digital twin for AECO will be applied in certain use cases, building typologies, and will be used by certain professionals for asset management, but we will have to learn to evolve this technology and connect it to more and more productive sectors and with the city, to finally provide an end user, the data consumer who is the citizen, an intuitive and friendly interface, easy to use and access to information about this environment, therefore the digital twins must be scalable and multisectoral. Smart cities that integrate smart buildings and infrastructures, where other sectors such as mobility, services, and the smart devices (IoT) themselves that are already beginning to form part of our lives converge.
5. CASE STUDIES
One of the first steps when approaching the implementation of this technology, as with BIM, is to ask the client or end user what it is intended to be used for, have a clear digitization strategy and develop protocols, business plans, a roadmap that defines those uses, in addition to everything necessary to make that end possible, based on recognized standards as far as possible, but above all, based on the real needs of that client, organization or project concrete, and for this, innovation and R&D come into play more than ever as a fundamental part of any technological implementation. There are standards that should serve as a reference, but there will never be two equal projects, and we must innovate to find disruptive solutions that energize a business and go beyond the originally planned objectives of rigor.
In our own R&D, which constitutes the great investment that our company makes, we have already identified certain use cases that we show below, but that is undoubtedly a list that falls short of everything we can do with digital twins. We call this list “What can we do with a digital twin”:
- Audit databases of BIM models and out of BIM models based on rules based on regulations or information exchange requirements of a project (EIR)
- Integrate on a multiple BIM digital model project documentation (plans, reports, reports, specifications) at the project level, at the component level, areas or groups of components, making the digital models receivers of that localized information
- Generate data visualization reports (business intelligence) automatically based on templates, these templates search for certain project data in BIM-GIS models (virtual environment) and other connected systems (BMS, CMMS, EMS, IoT – physical environment), the result is to be able to have multiple dashboards that interact on the digital model and, therefore, on the physical asset they represent.
- Visualize data in multiple ways to get a better understanding of them, static data, real-time data, historical data, aggregated, comparative, simulated, predictive data, data represented in heat maps on the digital model or in graphs of so that we can make multiple filters of the information and categorize it at different levels.
- Manage project costs in an integrated way, involving all agents who make decisions about tenders, cost studies, budgets, contracting services and purchases. Ultimately being able to control in real time everything that affects the cost and business of an asset.
- Act on the systems and devices connected from the digital twin, of special relevance since the pandemic, which will undoubtedly lead us to connect the digital twin not only with fixed or portable devices such as sensors or cameras, but also to control drones to remote inspection, robotic arms and more or less autonomous remote-controlled robots. An exciting near future is approaching for the industry.
- Manage the life cycle of assets, from their design, construction phase to the use and operations phase, to the maintenance and management of the asset, which will result in data that will be the key to improving production processes and industrializing construction with prefabricated techniques, use of recyclable materials and efficient waste management, as well as better management of the systems and services that are developed.
- Manage renewable energy production systems, storage, management and injection to the grid to help generate smart energy grids systems (smart-grids) to achieve alignment with European directives (Green Deal) and renew the building stock in a way that is more efficient and sustainable.
To these cases a greater complexity is added if possible, that any of them acts differently depending on the type of building and infrastructure that we act, or the technical discipline, and of course, the phase in which we act.
Some POWERBIM digital twin use cases (BIM6D, 2018-2021)
6. GLOBAL PURPOSES OF THE DIGITAL TWIN
Since the declaration of a pandemic by COVID-19 around the world in 2020, it is necessary to redesign the near future, and put the current use of data in crisis. Growth trends in certain areas have fallen to the benefit of others, and essential sectors regain their importance such as health without going any further. We are in a new world where technological and digital development is accelerating and the digital twin will help society as an emerging technology to provide the best possible answers to a series of growing problems that we have to face from today.
The digital twin is not only a virtual model of a thing or a process, but it may be that of the people themselves or of a geopolitical territory and its socio-economic reality, so that we will see current situations represented, but also visualize possible future scenarios for make better decisions.
This is well known at the “CDBB – Centre for Digital Built Britain”, an organization that has been running the National Digital Twin (NDTp) program for a few years now (5), a partnership between the University of Cambridge and the Department of Business, Energy and UK Industrial Strategy. For this working group, “high-quality and secure data improves the way any infrastructure is built, managed, operated, and eventually dismantled.” They carry out their work in improving the efficiency in the capture and treatment of data to generate savings for the interested parties and guarantee social benefits for all. One of the goals of the NDTp is to enable a national digital twin, that is, “an ecosystem of connected digital twins to foster better outcomes from our built environment.”
In one of the possible use cases, it is stated that, if an explosion is generated in an office building, the national digital twin can immediately cut the nearby metro for security reasons, activate the evacuation of buildings in the area and notify to the health services with preference for the use of the streets and to be able to deploy the entire emergency system in real time, faster and more efficiently than up to now.
Finally, we would like to end this article by highlighting the importance of incorporating all technology, such as the digital twin that concerns us, with a positive global purpose, and this must be done from the institutions. Such deployment of technical means, injections of large capital such as the one that is already being produced, public and private, makes no sense if the benefit is applied only to the project itself or to the client who orders that technology, which of course must be to benefit and increase the value of its assets that are managed in this way, the improvement in certain indicators that respond to global positive purposes must be incorporated as necessary, which in our point of view, we list the most important on which the digital twin should influence:
- the fight against climate change by monitoring and improving certain indicators of energy efficiency, carbon footprint and environmental impact
- the contribution to the health and well-being of citizens, monitoring and managing indicators of people’s health, and making the relationship between the health sector and citizens more direct thanks to digitization.
- safe and open access to relevant information by all citizens, in real time, strengthening cybersecurity and accessibility to that information.
- the creation of new technological business models, therefore, favouring the creation of multiple ICT companies and jobs, thanks to the connection of new services associated with the digital twins.
Along these lines, at BIM6D we are venturing to interpret this digital twin for positive global purposes, on a community scale, and attacking certain strategic indicators that will be key to incorporate so that we can have a better future as a society.
- Gelernter, David Hillel (1991). Mirror Worlds: or the day the software puts the universe in a shoe box – how it will happen and what it will mean. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press
- Grieves, M., Virtually Intelligent Product Systems: Digital and Physical Twins, in Complex Systems Engineering: Theory and Practice, S. Flumerfelt, et al., Editors. 2019, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics