Changing demographics, lifestyles, and views have placed greater emphasis on making our built and natural environments smarter, more sustainable, and connected.
This shift is spurring new ways of thinking in the built asset industry, which is expanding on traditional working practices and embracing digitization and data much like manufacturing and other industry sectors have.
That means broadening our view of building information modeling (BIM) to fully embrace the digital twin concept. It also means thinking beyond the traditional concept of plan, build, operate (PBO) to understand how we as citizens also integrate with the built and natural environment that surrounds us (PBO-I).
The following explores what a digital twin is, where BIM fits into the PBO-I lifecycle model, how digital twins interact with data, what an ecosystem of digital twins is, and how digital twins can positively impact our lives.
At a basic level, a digital twin is simply a digital representation of a physical thing (i.e. an asset, a process, a system, a sector, etc.). But in reality, it is so much more….
Digital twins are prevalent in almost every industry. Manufacturing uses digital twins to analyze and optimize production lines, the water industry uses them to improve distribution network reliability, and the automotive industry leverages digital twins to develop and enhance products.
For the built asset industry, digital twins can play a profound role in how owners manage built assets and how consumers interact with – in many cases, live and work in – such structures now and into the future.
Ideally, today digital twins would be created in parallel with their physical counterparts throughout the planning, design, and construction phases of a project, or after the project has progressed by scanning the asset.
An important aspect of a digital twin is the two-way connection between the digital and physical asset through shared data.
We’ll explore the data aspect shortly, but first, it’s important to understand how and where digital twins interact with BIM, and where everything fits into the plan, build, operate, integrate (PBO-I) lifecycle.
The infinity loop model shows the overall system of digital twins where each asset is part of the bigger system.
In other blog posts, we’ve talked about building information modelling (BIM) and the common data environment (CDE) in terms of the plan, build, operate model for projects.
We must consider how we interact with the built environment. How can the built environment provide better services to suit the way we want to live our lives now and in the future?
That brings us to where digitization relates to PBO-I, with integration the critical starting point.
Integrate – Identifying how to improve the quality of life for citizens through the planning, building, and operation of our built and natural environments through integration of the services they deliver
Plan – Learning through best practice to design better performing homes, buildings, and infrastructure by using data from the start through secure information management and digital techniques
Build – Using digital construction techniques and manufacturing-type approaches to improve construction safety, quality, and productivity
Operate – Enhancing the performance of the built environment and its services through effective use of information management
The two-way communication between the physical and digital is key for digital twins. Data flows from the physical asset to the digital twin and vice versa.
That data is leveraged using data science—whether that’s artificial intelligence, machine learning, or basic data analysis.
These data insights provide better decision making resulting in interventions (such as recommended actions or changes) that are fed back to the physical asset, providing better outcomes. The more that machine-to-machine data exchanges are used, the better the results are.
Data is exchanged between the physical asset and digital twin at right-time intervals depending on the purpose of the digital twins. If the digital twins’ purpose is to facilitate operations, you might want real-time data.
If the purpose is to facilitate better planning or resilience, real-time data is not required; the refresh rate of data could be once a week or month.
A digital twin can apply to anything from an individual asset, a process, a system, or a whole sector, so we should also consider how to connect these digital twins. This is where the ecosystem of digital twins comes in.
If you think about different types of transport as a system, e.g. road, rail, metro, air, etc., many of these systems have a physical asset connected to a digital twin.
But these individual digital twins can also be connected together. Imagine having the digital twins of a train link connecting to other transport classes, such as road, resulting in an improved transportation experience.
For example, these digital twins could share information about potential issues with the rail system in a certain area which could lead to a busier road system in the same location.
Now, imagine what would happen if the built asset industry operated in the same way and connected to other parts of our built or natural world, such as waste, water, transport, energy, or our green spaces.
An ecosystem of digital twins would result in a city that learns from how we live, combining multiple data sources to continually improve everything that we use and that is around us.
The expansion, enhancements, or regeneration of that city would be determined based on the data captured and analyzed by the ecosystem of digital twins to enable a city to continually improve and/or adapt.
This is how the concept of connected digital twins can go beyond the built environment.
Oracle is already helping in several areas. Oracle Aconex provides a true common data environment (CDE) that helps in design, build, and operations. Oracle Aconex Model Coordination unlocks new levels of visibility, coordination, and productivity across people and processes.
Oracle is very much on the journey with the evolution of digital twins and recognizes that customer engagement is paramount.
Oracle Construction and Engineering also works with standardization bodies like buildingSMART International (recently working on a digital twins positioning paper aligned with this post) and CEN/ISO to help the industry come together, collaborate, and grow.
Oracle Construction and Engineering, the global leader in construction management software and project portfolio management solutions, helps you connect your teams, processes, and data across the project and asset lifecycle. Drive efficiency and control in project delivery with proven solutions for project controls, construction scheduling, portfolio management, BIM/CDE, construction payment management, and more.