In a previous article on the GovDesignHub, we spoke with Tod Glidewell, who leads Future Aviation Sustainment & Modernization Continued Airworthiness initiatives at the Army’s Aviation and Missile Command (AMCOM), about how digital twins were being developed for one of the Army’s workhouse helicopters, the UH-60 “Blackhawk.”
As part of this initiative, the Army was working to create a digital replica of the Blackhawk that could be used to more quickly and efficiently source replacement parts that could help keep its aging fleet airborne. But that’s not all that digital twins are good for.
In fact, digital twins of other, larger and more expensive government assets are not only possible, but could deliver incredible benefits to government agencies and military organizations. These assets could even include things like government buildings, infrastructure projects, and military bases.
At this year’s Autodesk University event, there were multiple presentations about incorporating the concept of the digital twin into the AEC lifecycle. And, in all cases, it was positioned as a solution capable of delivering deeper insight into an asset and the disparate systems that power it. Also, when connected to other systems, these digital twins can provide additional insight and actionable data that can aid in an asset’s continued operations and maintenance.
One of the presentations about using digital twins in AEC was entitled, “Constructwin: Delivering the Value of BIM to Owners with a Digital Twin,” and featured Robert Bray, the General Manager of Autodesk Tandem, a new business initiative within Autodesk tasked with transforming the built asset lifecycle with Digital Twin technology and solutions.
During this presentation, Robert laid out how the digital twin concept could work for new construction, and the different ways that these digital twins could be utilized to deliver additional value in the future – even well after project handoff.
According to Robert:
“For a new-build facility, the Digital Twin lifecycle starts at the beginning of the project with a collaboration to understand the desired operational outcomes and the data required to deliver those outcomes. Data is then captured through the project lifecycle and a Digital Twin is provided at handover. The twin can then be connected to other systems to collect operational and performance data, and system models can be defined to perform simulation. Finally, keep in mind that the Digital Twin must evolve over time. You may start wanting to monitor and tune energy consumption and carbon emissions, and in the future evolve the solution to support new needs like facility utilization and contract tracing.”
Those last two use cases – the utilization of digital twins for facility utilization and contract tracing – are of particular interest right now for both the government and the military. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and organizations looking to bring employees back into offices in controlled and low-risk ways, the ability to utilize digital twins for contract tracing could be useful both for planning purposes and in response to outbreaks.
The same pandemic that is making contact tracing a necessity is also changing how government agencies work. While many agencies, including the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), have implemented long-running and well-regarded work from home policies, many agencies that didn’t have flexible work environments in their plans suddenly had no choice when the pandemic began to spread around the globe.
As a vaccine becomes available and life returns to normal, there will still be agencies that look to keep some telework and workplace flexibility either because employees demand it, or because it can help ease facilities requirements and cost. Either way, being able to have a better, deeper understanding of facility utilization can not only help inform and guide workplace flexibility initiatives, but help agencies plan and implement changes necessary to support their evolving workplace requirements.
But what about existing buildings? Many of the places where the government workforce conducts business are established facilities that didn’t have digital twins created for them during their design and construction – that technology was probably still decades away. Luckily, according to Robert, that doesn’t mean that creating a digital twin is impossible:
“This solution is not limited to new build facilities,” Robert explained. “For existing facilities, the lifecycle is fundamentally the same and starts with understanding the desired operational outcomes and the data required to deliver those outcomes. Then the digital twin of the existing facility can be created by either leveraging existing data or having the facility scanned and modeled.”
Regardless of whether a digital twin is generated as part of the AEC lifecycle for a new building, or created through scanning and modeling of existing structures, it has the potential to deliver immense benefit to government facilities teams. When integrated with other systems and data, it can help to increase energy efficiency at a time when green initiatives are increasingly essential. It can help facilities teams with maintenance and deliver immense insight into the disparate systems that make a building work. And it can even help a government agency make its facilities more suitable for an evolving and shifting workforce.