Building Information Modeling, or BIM, is very much part of the construction industry’s lexicon these days, with architects, engineers, and the construction industry using modelling software to design and manage the construction of buildings. However, a shortcoming of BIM is that the representations of buildings that it provides can be non-dynamic or static in nature, with the representations unable to accommodate live data. Cue Digital Twins. These digital or virtual replicas of buildings act as live models, with data and simulated physics allowing easier decision making and maintenance planning. Whereas a BIM model only looks like the intended building, a digital twin behaves like it, too, responding to variables such as occupancy and stress conditions. In the world of off-site construction, this comprehensive nature of digital twins has multiple benefits.
Benefits of Digital Twins
By replicating every aspect of a build, digital twins not only take into account the materials used but also how a building is used. This appreciation for intention is why digital twin technology is often called semantic modeling, where the use and context of the building are taken into account.
With digital twins, the link between the model and the physical asset is no longer a one-way street. Instead, the construction itself can feed into the twin in real-time via sensors and data fed back from those involved with the construction. This ability for digital twins to respond to real-world factors, such as supply levels, construction stages, and data from sensors, allows decisions to be made with a lot more confidence.
And the information goes the other way too. A digital twin allows offsite construction designs to be planned in great detail, with variables such as the ability to test load-bearing frames realistically using simulated physics. Even the way in which light or noise is affected by different materials can be appreciated. Being able to factor in things such as acceptable road traffic noise and the average luminance of a room into a digital twin is especially important with the increased investor focus on ESG, or Environmental, Social and Governance issues.
Offsite Construction’s Use of Digital Twins
This dynamic aspect of digital twins is especially beneficial to offsite construction, both 2D panelised and 3D volumetric modular. While BIM models can help visualize the arrangement of panels or modules, digital twin technology can factor in far more data by simulating the environment, physics, and even the inhabitants. The upshot of this is that digital twins make construction safer, cheaper, and more sustainable.
With a digital twin model, offsite construction companies can track a project’s materials and processes down to the minutiae, simulating a project’s entire construction from start to finish and beyond, where it then serves for the entire lifecycle of the building or asset. This granularity means any possible miscalculations or clashes are detected prior to construction even beginning. This is not only safer, but virtual testing can enable the use of sustainable alternatives and faster construction times. This means monetary savings as well as a lower carbon footprint per build.
Effective Use of Digital Twins
Modern methods of construction already use a host of smart technologies to digitise elements of the building process, with all the benefits that this provides. Incorporating the use of digital twins is another tool that can be used to make construction easier for all involved.
Prototyping: A digital twin begins as a computer-generated prototype of a building instead of traditional line drawings. This design method saves an enormous amount of time, reduces the number of overlooked mistakes considerably, and typically costs a lot less.
Simulating: The next stage involves simulating every stage and aspect of construction, from manufacturing parts to assembly. In doing this, the digital twin will reveal the physical traits of the build and give vital data on tolerances and weaknesses that may develop over time. Evaluation of the build through the changing of the twin’s environmental dynamics like temperature and moisture levels is something that is simply not possible with BIM models.
Sharing: Through the life of a build, digital twins enable communication and data sharing at all levels. Whereas traditional construction employs largely unidirectional methods, digital twins mean designers and those involved in the construction can freely share data via the real-time model. This means material supplies, stages of construction, and newly embedded information are always accessible by everyone.
Evaluating: Once a build is complete, through the use of IoT technology, sensors, and environmental monitoring, data can be fed back to the digital model. This sort of data can help construction companies in modeling future builds through the analysis of building use, and in some cases, allow the planning of maintenance.
Digital twins have the ability to make construction faster, cheaper, and more sustainable, especially in the world of offsite builds where traditional methods are often not applicable. While the construction industry is yet to adopt the usage of digital twins widely, the industry’s increased digitalisation means they will assuredly become a mainstay sooner rather than later.
About Horizon Offsite
Horizon Offsite Ltd is one of Europe’s leading players in Offsite Construction and Modern Methods of Construction (MMC), providing a fully accredited structural light gauge steel system to the residential, industrial, commercial, healthcare and educational sectors. Contact the Horizon Offsite team at https://www.horizonoffsite.ie