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Digital Twins of Our Constructed Assets

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Digital Twins of Our Constructed Assets

Anil Sawhney, Ph.D. PMP FRICS FHEA, Global Construction and Infrastructure Sector Lead, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), 0

With more than two decades of experience, Anil is involved in the production of an infrastructure sector body of knowledge, standards, guidance, information, education, and training relating to professional development, with a focus on this critical sector.

A digital twin uses data to connect physical objects, subcomponents, processes, or entire assets bi directionally to their virtual representation or digital replica. Through this “live” connection, the physical twin and its digital replica together are considered a digital twin. The physical entity under consideration can range from a space shuttle, a work centre in a smart factory, wind turbines in a wind farm, or a bridge in an urban transportation network. A human digital twin for healthcare purposes or a digital twin of an organization for decision making purposes is also possible. The graphic below illustrates the fundamental concept behind a digital twin.The data and the bidirectional connection provide timely insights to improve the physical entity’s design, production, test, use, and reuse or recycle processes. The current applications of digital twins are far reaching in sectors such as aerospace, automotive, manufacturing, healthcare, defence, natural resources, energy, utilities, and the built environment. The digital twin systems hold tremendous promise in helping these sectors attain broad environmental, social, and economic outcomes. Early adopters have reported improved product quality, better control of operating costs, availability of digital records of parts and components, improved supply chain management, better social and environmental outcomes, and revenue growth opportunities for all stakeholders.

Can the construction sector also benefit from such an approach? Do we need to consider developing digital twins of a pump, a tower crane, a hospital room, a pump room, a building, an office block, a construction worker, an occupant, a district, a city, or any other aspect? To answer these questions, RICS, in collaboration with Glod on, has recently released an industry paper entitled “Digital twins from design to handover of constructed assets”. Various industry reports show that digital twins can improve a constructed asset’s design, construction, hand over, operation, maintenance, renewal, and end of life processes. To fully comprehend these benefits, one must first explore the main elements of a digital twin. Using the definition provided by the Digital Twin Consortium, the illustration below provides the foundational elements of a digital twin and their interlinks.

Our study shows that digital twins should be considered as early in the life cycle as possible after carefully evaluating their use cases and conducting a cost benefit analysis. Sixty four percent of the respondents in our study agree that digital twins can be deployed over the entire life cycle of a constructed asset (see the chart below). To deliver their promise digital twins need accurate and reliable data about the connected real world entities and processes continually over the entire life cycle. Upfront static data models the design and pre construction intent, and the as built and operation data captured constantly and dynamically gives insights about project and asset performance. As the physical
object or process is stood up, the virtual representation is synchronized to the real world using data from the ‘edge’ with appropriate fidelity and frequency. Industry 5.0 technologies such as the Internet of Things sensors, artificial intelligence, laser scanning, augmented reality, virtual reality, blockchain,edge computing, humanmachine interaction, and others play an essential role in all aspects of a digital twin system.

The idea of digital twins seems simple, but its planning, development, deployment, use, and update are complex and must be carefully managed. One source of complexity stems from the data and information collection process from the pre project phase to the end of life. Equally important is the careful consideration of the consistent classification of elements and definition of a data dictionary that is robust enough to fulfil the intended use cases. For example, using a digital twin in financial and environmental decision making requires integrating into its data architecture a life cycle cost and carbon classification system such as the International Cost Management Standards. The chart below shows the top uses of digital twins during the design and construction phases. Maintaining an updated digital twin is a complex and challenging task. But having such digital twins offers evidence and performance visibility to all stakeholders to make crucial decisions about projects and assets. A digital twin acts as a repository of data that represents the past and present and simulates predicted futures. It helps holistic understanding, optimal decision making, and practical action concerning the design, construction and use of our buildings transportation networks energy distribution infrastructure, and other constructed assets.

The idea of digital twins seems simple, but its planning, development, deployment, use, and update are complex and must be carefully managed


Since real world objects, processes, or assets connect as a system to deliver outcomes, their virtual representations should also be able to connect and communicate seamlessly, requiring digital twins to be interoperable. As the market matures, digital twins will also be able to operate autonomously with minimal human intervention. The figure below shows the top-ranked digital twin deliverables demanded by asset developers and owners. After years of experience gained by applying BIM in the built environment sector, management of data and information has emerged as the main thread that connects project team members and life cycle phases to achieve desired outcomes. Similarly, data and information management will be central to the growing application of digital twins in the built environment sector.

Digital twins are expected to develop as a critical tool in all phases and the overall asset life cycle, especially considering continued environmental, social and governance requirements. These requirements are increasingly challenging to fulfil without a whole of life view of a construction project and the resulting asset. The current emphasis of digital twins in the built environment sector is on the use phase after the handover of built assets. This joint RICS and Glod on industry whitepaper shines a light on the case where one could develop, deploy, and use digital twins during the design, construction, and handover stages. RICS professionals working in construction and quantity surveying, project management, building surveying, building control, and infrastructure pathways are bound to play an ever important role in developing, deploying, and using digital twins.