Digital twins are a game changer for the construction industry

Data Science   |   
Published September 16, 2020   |   

New tech and tools in building information modeling (BIM) are transforming how construction firms approach the construction and maintenance of new buildings.
One of the most valuable new techniques is the use of digital twin technology, which are virtual construction models that replicate every detail of a given structure, all the way down to the specific materials or individual components that make up an object.
The depth of information that these models provide can be extremely valuable to construction companies and may soon revolutionize how the industry approaches construction.

How Digital Twin Construction Works

Digital twin technology, as a concept, is borrowed from engineering — the idea was first put into practice by NASA engineers, who needed highly detailed models to simulate different aspects of spaceflight. In a 2010 NASA technology roadmap, an engineer from the agency coined the term “digital twin” to describe virtual copies of flight systems that could be used in project simulations.
The more detailed a digital model, the better information it can give you when subjected to stress tests and scenarios like those it may face in the field. A digital twin aims to be the most detailed model possible — as close as you can get to a virtual copy of the real-world object.
The tech has already been used for years in aviation and manufacturing. There, the tech is primarily used to ensure high-quality precision in manufactured components. Now, construction firms are beginning to find ways to apply the tech to their industry.
Construction companies primarily use digital twin technology to create extraordinarily detailed models of existing or planned buildings.
If a building model is high-fidelity, you’ll receive more accurate and valuable data from the simulations. With an effectively designed digital twin, you can test buildings in multiple ways. For example, you may run a sunlight simulation that shows how much natural light each room in the building will receive at peak usage hours. You may use fluid dynamics to simulate a fire drill with the maximum number of building occupants. Other simulations can show potential oversights in the design of building plumbing or HVAC systems.
Along with technology and techniques like drones and Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA), digital twinning is one of the cutting-edge construction technologies that leading companies are using to change how they approach their work.

The Benefits of Digital Twins in Construction

A highly detailed model, designed before construction begins, is an excellent tool that can both improve cost estimation and reduce the risk of project scope creep.
A design and detailing company commissioned for a major project at the Hong Kong International Airport used digital twin technology to design to a manufacturing level of detail. As a result, the final design for the new project improved the project’s build quality and reduced the number of tasks that needed to be completed on-site. Construction was extremely accurate, and the firm limited the amount of extra work necessary for project completion.
Digital twins used in this way can also help streamline the actual construction of a building. Design with manufacturing and assembly in mind can reduce risks during the construction process.
The tech can also minimize on-site risks similarly. Safety simulations can show project managers where and when the project’s construction will be most dangerous. They can then take steps to reduce those safety hazards — whether by putting up additional scaffolding or changing their standards for on-site PPE.
Construction firms can use material simulations for untried, newer materials. These materials may be more sustainable or cost-effective than conventional ones but haven’t been tested at scale yet or used by the specific firm now applying them. Simulations with a sophisticated digital twin can provide engineers with a better sense of how these materials will respond to the natural stress and strain they’ll experience during and after construction.
Digital twins can also be effective for firms wanting to test the practicality of their designs. Because a digital twin can model every aspect of a building — including the plumbing, ventilation, wiring, windows and doors — you can use one of these models to catch intersecting components or parts of the building that don’t have enough space to be up to code.
These simulations aren’t likely to be perfect, but they can help construction firms catch major design oversights and code violations automatically. This can save both significant time and money in renovations down the line.

How Digital Twins May Transform the Construction Industry

High-fidelity models, in the form of digital twins, allow construction companies to test buildings effectively before they break ground on a new project. The benefits of this tech are already having a big impact on the industry.
Because companies can now simulate construction before it begins, they have a powerful tool to help them avoid common construction pitfalls and errors that could require delays in construction or costly renovations after a project is complete.
The same tech can also be used to simulate aspects of a building — like natural light, airflow and foot traffic flow — that can give designers information needed to create more buildings that are more pleasant to work or live in.