Dec 01

Digital Twins

Data is a tool that has played a vital role in the world for decades. Going all the way back to World War II when Alan Turing created the ‘bombe’ in order to crack the enigma code. Now, we have an abundance of data being processed by our smartphones on a daily basis, providing us with information about transport and the weather amongst other things.

With access to limitless data in every aspect of our lives, it is about time that we really utilise that data to improve the world around us. Digital Twins are unlocking that potential by visualising complex data and making it more accessible to the user than ever before.

A Digital Twin is a virtual model of a real, physical thing which simulates the state of its real-life counterpart. This model then provides value to the user through data visualisation and artificial intelligence which can optimise the performance of whatever the physical asset may be. Digital Twins have been around for a while now but it is only recently that the technology has started to be used across a range of industries. This is due to several factors, including cheaper data storage, faster wireless networks and more cost-effective sensors.

Due to the high costs of the technology, Digital Twins were originally restricted to the aerospace and defence industries. However, companies today are already generating the data they need to build a Digital Twin. Sensors and data communication systems are now used in common appliances as well as cars and electronic devices.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is what makes Digital Twins possible. IoT products are able to generate a high volume of complex data which can then be analysed by organisations to optimise their systems – but only if they have the necessary tools (i.e. a Digital Twin).

Using a Digital Twin requires a large amount of data storage. Cloud storage is a cost-effective method of ensuring all of the necessary data is securely and reliably stored. The use of open standards and application programming interfaces (APIs) has revolutionised the way systems can exchange data by significantly streamlining the process.

Artificial intelligence (AI) gives the Digital Twin its predictive powers. Using machine learning technology, Digital Twins can calculate the effect any change can have upon an asset. This also means that the systems can now assist with decision making as well as predict the outcome of future decisions. Augmented reality (AR) can be used to render fully interactive 3D environments. Twinview is a Digital Twin which has specifically been developed for the property sector. Digital Twins are capable of completely changing the way the industry operates buildings. With accurate, real-time building performance data owners and operations can be confident their buildings are operating efficiently. The use of carbon is a priority to the millennium generation and with data, landlords can optimise their building systems to minimise energy use.

There is also an increasing responsibility on building owners to maintain up to date building information. Following the Grenfell disaster, there is to be new legislation requiring landlords with buildings over 18m to keep up to date digital records. A major benefit of using Digital Twins is the ability to visualise data and the status of the physical asset. Digital Twins’ troubleshooting capabilities can help to optimise performance for both current and future products.

Those that have already adopted the use of Digital Twins commonly refer to the main benefits as the ability to make better decisions due to the access to supporting data and faster, more efficient business processes. As Digital Twins can automate certain tasks such as testing and reporting, it means that the teams working on a project are free to prioritise other tasks.

The twin’s predictive capabilities provide the ability to test the effect on a building that any changes would make – resulting in reduced operational costs and more efficient decision-making processes. As Digital Twins can automate certain tasks such as testing and reporting, it means that the teams working on a project are free to prioritise other tasks. The cost has been a large obstacle in the widespread adoption of Digital Twins. Investment is required for maintenance and to develop models amongst other things. These costs are falling but there are alternative tools that are still less expensive to run. There is also a requirement for good quality data in order for the Digital Twin to be as effective as it possibly can be. This means that organisations must be able to identify bad data and replace it with better data.

Digital Twins for buildings provide a wide range of possibilities. The twin’s predictive capabilities provide the ability to test the effect on a building that any changes would make – resulting in reduced operational costs and more efficient decision-making processes.

Some of the most sophisticated Digital Twin technology can also troubleshoot and suggest solutions to problems with the building that may arise. During the production stage, Digital Twins have the capacity to allow for collaboration between different teams working on the same project. The Centre for Digital Built Britain’s (CDBB) National Digital Twin programme has been planned to improve our infrastructure across the United Kingdom. The idea is that - by creating an eco-system of Digital Twins - the public, the economy and the environment would all reap the benefits. To assist with the development of the National Digital Twin, the CDBB laid out a set of values known as the ‘Gemini Principles.’

The three core principles are purpose, trust and function. Within these core values are characteristics that further explain the principles: public good, value creation, insight, security, openness, quality, federation, curation and evolution. For a Digital Twin to be recognised by the CDBB, it must fit these criteria.

In the past, facilities managers would be reliant on paper to store all of the information on their assets. This caused obvious problems if the paperwork was damaged or lost. Data storage via the cloud is a major solution that Digital Twins offer to FMs. Other benefits to facilities managers include remote operation and troubleshooting; reduced energy wastage due to increase in efficiency; enhanced building performance and the ability to predict future performance and failures. Digital Twins mean that estate managers can remotely monitor all of their assets within their estates and have access to every piece of data at their fingertips in an instant. For building operators, inspecting and maintaining a building has never been easier. Digital Twins have the ability to remotely run inspections within their software as well as being able to spot potential issues in advance.

Maintenance and repairs have also been made simpler by a Digital Twin’s capacity to troubleshoot and offer solutions using artificial intelligence and the data within the building’s model. Digital Twins are now being used in every facet of our society. They help to run our transport infrastructure, manage our energy production and could potentially even be used to prevent heart failure.

In the built environment, Digital Twins can cut costs whilst offering solutions to traditional problems and are now central to innovation in both the property and construction industries. Following the Grenfell disaster in 2017, the Hackitt report on building safety and fire regulations outlined a need for the built environment to embrace the use of data in its processes.

The report’s recommendations were focused on a need for the industry to put an emphasis on sharing its data and working collaboratively. It is no coincidence that Digital Twins are now seen as a considerable part of the solution. Digital Twins are also an effective weapon in the fight against the climate crisis. With 40% of the world’s energy use coming from the built environment, there is undoubtedly a huge responsibility on the sector to redress the balance.

Reducing energy waste is a key benefit for businesses who implement a Digital Twin. Through monitoring and analysing their building’s energy usage, organisations can make tangible changes to the amount of carbon their asset is putting out into the world. The future is here, so how can your organisation use a Digital Twin to affect change for the better? We are excited to find out.