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Thursday , 22 February 2024

Digital Twins: A value addition to BIM in the construction space

Along with BIM, Digital Twins are the most evolving and promising technologies that can lead to a revolution in the way construction is done globally. Here we explore the concepts and their most favourable aspects.

As is the case with several, or rather most, industries, the future of the construction industry is digitalisation. Constantly evolving technologies such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) and Digital Twins are changing the face of the construction industry. BIM has been around for decades now, being used by architects, engineers and construction companies to help design and construct buildings. But the concept of Digital Twins is a fairly recent one and has been implemented from the manufacturing industry. In construction, a Digital Twin is an exact digital replica of a construction project or asset such as a building, a group of buildings, a bridge, a highway, a part of a city or even an entire city. Building Digital Twins of road infrastructure has huge potential in global development. A very good example of such usage can be seen in the UK — as part of its Digital Roads Strategy, the National Highways agency is developing several digital twins of the road network there to help predict maintenance issues such as potholes.

Built on a number of common principles, both BIM and Digital Twins are digital representations of physical spaces but with a major intrinsic difference — BIM is used mainly for construction and design purposes while Digital Twins are used for maintenance and operations. Whereas BIM is a static digital model, Digital Twins are a dynamic digital representation. Allowing structures to become smart and dynamic all through, both are proving to be an asset for the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry.

BIM governs the design, planning and execution of a build. It is a smart building technology – it can update multiple layers of a design plan even if a change affects all of them. Often used standardly for large urban planning involving construction projects, BIM creates 3D digital representations of the physical form and its functional elements. But it is much more than a 3D model – BIM objects are intelligent, have geometry and also store data. With its increasing sophistication, 4D, 5D and even 6D BIM are expected to start playing a part in the construction process in the future.

Replicating structures digitally

Digital Twins made an entry into the world of technology in 1970 when the first data twin was used during NASA’s Apollo 13 mission. In a major breakthrough, a digital twin helped Mission Control diagnose and solve a problem of leaking tanks from 200,000 miles away after oxygen tanks exploded early on, saving the lives of the astronauts and the mission in itself.

Virtual replicas of physical assets, processes and systems, Digital Twins not only help in enhancing efficiency and reducing costs but also improve safety. Such digitalisation is set to revolutionise the construction industry and shape the future of infrastructure projects. Real-time monitoring, analysis and simulation is the hallmark of this technology and it uses the power of data analytics, AI and the Internet of Things (IoT) to provide these.

By helping designers imitate various scenarios, test alternatives in design, and evaluate performance in real time, Digital Twins enable design optimisation under different circumstances, such as inclement weather. Moreover, architects, engineers, contractors and shareholders get a shared platform to brainstorm and collaborate in real time, helping make better decisions, minimising the possibility of errors and saving time by reducing rework on a project.

According to Vijay Gupta, Founder, Chairman & CEO, SoftTech Engineers Limited, Digital twins play a vital role in improving project management during the construction phase. By providing a digital representation of the asset, construction teams can reference and monitor progress in real-time. The benefits of digital twins in construction include:

Real-time Monitoring: By overlaying real-time data from IoT sensors onto the virtual model, project managers can track resource availability, identify bottlenecks, and ensure that the project stays on schedule and within budget.

Advanced Simulation Capabilities: Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) enable construction workers to visualise structural elements and utilities with precision, reducing errors and improving accuracy. VR can also be used for immersive training programmes, enhancing worker productivity and safety.

Connecting the physical and virtual worlds, digital twins are fast becoming the go-to method for developing reliable data models of all components of a building or city at different phases of its lifecycle. As per a study by Markets and Markets, the global digital twin market is poised to reach $73.5billion by 2027 from $6.9billion in 2022 in terms of revenue.

What adds to their power is their ability to evolve by learning new skills and capabilities on a constant basis. Digital Twins have also entered the smart cities’ space and can help administrations and planners to make better decisions along with the help of BIM models.

Twin power

BIM is the most important information for any Digital Twin. In fact, creating a Digital Twin begins with using BIM. A Digital Twin is a real-life version created as part of the BIM process to generate a virtual replica. Both BIM and Digital Twins are used collaboratively to powerfully support the entire building life cycle and have almost become a necessity as construction needs also evolve rapidly. Digital Twin capabilities have led to an improvement and evolution of BIM models. Major integrated projects in the West, especially in mass transportation networks, are being envisaged in the future.

As these are complex, advanced and evolving technologies, there is a significant cost involved in their usage but it is also being understood that, if applied rightly, these will almost certainly deliver the required return on investment and transform the construction industry.

– Sakshi Bhasin

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