Digital twin technology has the potential to be a game changer in how government construction and design professionals approach the AEC lifecycle. But according to Autodesk’s Senior Director and General Manager, Robert “Bob” Bray, “If you ask ten people what a digital twin is, you’re likely to get ten different answers.”
To find out the true answer to this question, IMAGINiT recently hosted Bray at its “Delivering the Value of Autodesk Tandem” webinar. In addition to explaining what exactly a digital twin is, Bray also demonstrated how the technology is key to AEC digital transformation, and how Autodesk’s cloud-based digital twin platform, Tandem, creates repeatable, pragmatic workflows that makes it easier for AEC teams to embrace digital twins.
Demystifying the digital twin
Bray kicked off the webinar by explaining that a digital twin is a dynamic digital replica of a built asset that consolidates design, construction, and operational data, in order to simulate, predict, and inform decisions based on real-world conditions.
He explained that a lot of the data needed to create the foundation of the digital twin is already created or captured during design and construction, but is left unused. Through cloud-based digital twin platforms, like Autodesk Tandem, AEC teams can now harness this data to create a highly repeatable process for producing digital twins.
One of the most exciting benefits of digital twin technology is its ability to transform the built asset lifecycle – a digital process that spans architecture, engineering, construction, and asset management. And according to Bray, the “real holy grail” of digital twin technology is taking all of the operational and performance knowledge that’s collected by the twin and using it to inform future decisions for the built asset.
Digital twin maturity model
Bray then explained that true digital twins should evolve throughout the AEC lifecycle, turning to Verdantix’s five-level maturity model as a guideline to measure by. To maximize the business value of digital twins, the process must be done step-by-step through this maturity model. According to Bray, in order to arrive at desired end results in a repeatable and replicable way, no step of the model should be skipped.
The base level of the maturity model is the descriptive twin. A descriptive twin is a live, editable version of design and construction data, including the assets, systems, and spaces that are important to the owner-operator.
After the descriptive twin has been created, the AEC team then connects that data to the operational systems, like work order management or IoT systems. This connection to the operational data generates the informative twin.
Once data collection begins, the AEC team moves up the maturity model and defines a predictive twin. The predictive twin enables predictive analysis based on the collected data.
After predictive analysis is set into motion, the next step is generating comprehensive twins. Comprehensive twins support the “what if” scenarios that the owner-operator may face in the facility after project turnover, such as a system breaking or malfunctioning.
All four previous maturity model steps then result into generating autonomous twins. Autonomous twins benefit the occupants of a facility after project turnover. Creating an autonomous facility essentially makes the facility “smart,” such as automating light switches to turn off when no one is in a room or sensing the need for temperature adjustments based on the number of people in a given space.
Bray stressed that each of these five steps of the model must be achieved in order to make the process repeatable. He admitted that an owner-operator could pay a firm to skip the pragmatic workflow and go straight to the autonomous twin end-result, but it is costly and, in the end, does not provide the repeatable value that is desired by the owner-operator.
He explained that the business value of the digital twin increases throughout the five-step process, and the level of digital transformation for the project goes up as well. Also, when following a pragmatic workflow of data organization and collection, the systems within a project facility will autonomously and naturally work better together.
Delivering the value of digital twins
Bray then examined some surprising statistics on why this kind of digital transformation within the AEC lifecycle is important. According to a recent FMI report on the engineering and construction industry, as much as 95.5 percent of all data goes unused in design and construction projects. But Bray explained that while that statistic is stunning, owners are beginning to recognize the need for a more collaborative approach on future projects, citing that 58 percent have indicated they’re moving towards design-build contract models.
According to Bray, one of the challenges that owner-operators have been facing is that it can take up to a year to get a facility operationally ready after project turnover. This is because most owner-operators – instead of receiving a descriptive twin that indexes all of the handover information – essentially receive an analog of unclassified and disconnected sets of data that make it difficult to create an integrated solution for monitoring and managing their facility post-turnover.
Bray explained that the analog information that owner-operators receive is not actually data, and that it will need to be turned back into data to operate an asset effectively, which accounts for the near yearlong operation waiting period. As a result, owner-operators are unable to maximize the potential of their smart buildings’ benefits, and end up with siloed data and systems that lead to poor insight into an asset’s performance.
Providing owner-operators with a digital twin eliminates these issues and enables operators to get their facility operational much faster and more efficiently, while also enabling the use of the autonomous, smart facility functionality.
Bray provided another statistic that reveals how much digital twins of assets can benefit owner-operators. According to a recent study that was published by Accenture, there is a potential return on capital employed that an owner-operator can achieve through digital transformation.
According to Bray, the biggest gain can be achieved by incentivizing project stakeholders to work in an integrated fashion, which, in turn, will help realize more value through efficient use of resources and adoption of more innovative processes and methods. But, in order to achieve this, owner-operators must invest more in data sharing and data-centric talent.
Facilitating digital transformation
After demonstrating the value digital twins brings to AEC teams and owner-operators, the question remains how to facilitate the process.
Bray then introduced Autodesk Tandem, a cloud-based digital twin technology platform that harnesses BIM data to enable projects to start and stay digital. Through Tandem, that 95.5 percent of data that previously went unused is now transformed into business intelligence.
Bray explained that Tandem was created to support digital transformation and help owner-operators move up the digital twin maturity scale, empowering them to realize their digital twin vision at handover.