My Top 5 Uses of Digital Twins with BIM for AECO Digital Twins Explained with examples and use cases digital twin

This blog post will share quite a lot! I first introduce digital twins, discuss the three main types, and then share my top 5 uses of Digital Twins with Building Information Models (BIM) and sensors in buildings.

Let’s get started! 😃

Digital twins are computer models that represent real-world objects. They can be used for various purposes, including product development, manufacturing, and maintenance.

Digital twins come in many shapes and sizes. For building operations, they can be utilized to track building systems’ performance, predict the lifecycle of equipment, plan maintenance, monitor occupancy patterns, adjust systems, and enhance building safety and security.

In this article, I’ll concentrate on Digital Twins for Buildings, but I’ll also go through a few examples from other industries that use digital twins and why they are valuable.

Let’s get this digital twin party started! 😃

1) Digital Twins

Many industries are already using digital twins, but the notion of a digital twin is relatively new in some fields (like construction), so let me first describe how I define digital twins and digital twin technology!

1.1) What is a Digital Twin?

Digital Twins are digital representations of physical objects or systems.

In other words, they are computer models that can be used to simulate the behavior of real-world objects.

These digital models mirror their real-world counterparts in near-real-time, providing organizations with valuable insights into how their physical assets are functioning or might perform in the future.

1.2) What is Digital Twin technology?

In a nutshell, digital twin technology refers to the hardware and software used to manage the digital replica of a real-world object or system combined with data about that object or system.

These tools then use the physical and functional characteristics of the object or system to simulate real-world behavior and test different scenarios before they are enacted in real life.

Digital twins are constantly being updated with data from their physical counterparts so that the two remain as similar to each other as possible.

Teams can then use dashboards to monitor the digital replica in real-time, make predictions about the future, and act on the insights – sometimes automatically!

1.3) Digital Twin Benefits

Digital twins can be used for a variety of purposes, such as:

  • To understand how a physical object will respond to specific conditions
  • To plan maintenance or repairs for a physical object
  • To track the performance of a physical thing over time
  • To predict the lifecycle of a physical object
  • and many more that I will describe in more detail below…

2) A brief history of Digital Twins

The origins of digital twins can be traced back to the Apollo space program in the 1960s when engineers used digital models to simulate conditions on the moon’s surface.

Since then, digital twins have been used in many industries, including Healthcare, automotive manufacturing, and oil and gas exploration.

Here is a brief timeline of digital twins in history:

History of Digital Twins
The History of Digital Twins
  • 1960s – NASA engineers use digital models to simulate conditions on the moon’s surface
  • 1970s – Oil and gas companies begin using digital twins to explore for new reserves
  • 1980s – Automotive companies use digital twins to design and test new vehicles
  • 1991 – Digital twins were first mentioned in a book called Mirror Worlds, which was written by David Gelernter
  • 2000s – Healthcare organizations begin using digital twins to manage patient care
  • 2002 – The idea of digital twins was applied by Michael Grieves in the manufacturing industry
  • 2010 – NASA created digital simulations of spacecraft for testing, and the term “digital twin” was coined by John Vickers of NASA
  • 2017 – Gartner named digital twins as one of the top 10 strategic technology trends
  • 2020 – Digital Twin Consortium formed to drive awareness, adoption, interoperability, and development of digital twin technology
  • 2021 – Some of the world’s largest owners, like Amazon, start planning and contracting for digital twins using Plannerly

3) The Three Types of Digital Twin

Let’s look at the three most prevalent forms of digital twin: the prototype, instance, and aggregate.

There are several similarities, but they each have their uses.

3.1 Digital Twin Prototype (DTP)

A digital twin prototype, or DTP, is a digital representation of a physical counterpart before making the physical product.

The DTP is used to simulate real-world conditions. By doing so, organizations can gain insights into how the physical counterpart will perform without spending money creating the actual product.

DTPs can be used to assess everything from components and systems to entire buildings (using BIM!) and infrastructure projects.

Advantages:

  • Allows you to test different scenarios before committing to a physical product
  • Helps you understand how the physical product will respond to specific conditions

Disadvantages:

  • Can be expensive to create
  • Requires high levels of accuracy and detail

Applications:

  • Automotive design and testing
  • Consumer products

A digital prototype of a car before it is manufactured allows for different conditions to be tested, such as wind/weather or terrain, so the vehicle can be designed to perform optimally in those conditions.

3.2 Digital Twin Instance (DTI)

A Digital Twin Instance, or DTI, is a digital replica of a real-world physical object or system used to test how a product will work in different/new situations.

DTIs are created using data collected from sensors and other sources, and they can be used to monitor, simulate, and optimize the performance of the physical counterpart.

Advantages:

  • Can be used to test how a product will work in different situations
  • Helps you understand how the physical counterpart will perform

Disadvantages:

  • Requires accurate and up-to-date data

Applications:

  • Industrial plant maintenance
  • Healthcare technology
  • Smart buildings

For example, a DTI of an industrial plant could be used to track production levels, identify bottlenecks, and find ways to improve efficiency.

DTIs can also predict how a physical system will respond to changes in conditions, such as weather events or traffic patterns. By understanding how the system is likely to behave, engineers can make better decisions about operating and maintaining it.

3.3 Digital Twin Aggregate (DTA)

A Digital Twin Aggregate (DTA) – sometimes called a Connected Digital Twin (CDT) – is a group of digital twin instances linked together to allow for real-time data sharing and analysis.

DTAs are often used to monitor large, complex systems like power grids or transportation networks.

Advantages:

  • Can be used to monitor large, complex systems in real-time
  • Helps you understand how different parts of a system are performing

Disadvantages:

  • Requires accurate and up-to-date data from all digital twin instances

Applications:

  • Power grid monitoring
  • Transportation network monitoring
  • Smart city planning

For example, a DTA of the power grid could be used to monitor electricity consumption across a city. By understanding how energy is being used, utilities can make better decisions about where to invest in new infrastructure and how to price their services.

DTAs can also be used to manage transportation networks, such as railways or highways. By understanding how traffic is flowing, authorities can make better decisions about where to build new roads or improve existing ones.

4) Industries using Digital Twins

So we’ve talks definitions and types of twin; now, let’s briefly introduce five examples of how different industries are actually utilizing digital twins:

4.1) Digital twins used in manufacturing

In the manufacturing industry, digital twins are used to create virtual models of products.

These models can be used for design and analysis, as well as for production planning and quality control.

Examples could be my mobile phone or a new smart lock that I might want to install on my front door 🔒

These digital twins can be used to simulate the object’s behavior and predict future performance.

4.2) Digital twins used in Engineering

Engineers use these models to test new designs before building them. They also use them to make sure that the design meets safety standards.

Design engineers also use these models to visualize the final product so they can see what it looks like.

For a wind farm, for example, it may be necessary to establish where the wind farm is best situated, what direction the wind turbines must face and how long they are anticipated to function before maintenance.

Engineering digital twins are also virtual models of systems. These models can be used for design and analysis, as well as for performance monitoring and fault detection.

4.3) Digital twins used in Healthcare

In Healthcare, digital twins are used to create virtual models of patients.

Yes, that’s crazy. A virtual model of the human body!!

These models can be used for personal diagnosis, treatment planning, and even surgery rehearsal.

A patient model can contain all of the medical data associated with that patient. It allows doctors to access all of the patient’s records at once, rather than having to search through multiple files.

Digital twins are also helpful when it comes to developing new healthcare gadgets. If a firm wants to create a new device, they may utilize a digital twin to test how the device interacts with human tissue.

4.4) Digital twins used in the Automotive Industry

In the automotive industry, digital twins are used to create virtual models of vehicles. These models can be used for design and analysis, as well as for manufacturing and assembly planning.

An automotive digital twin is a virtual representation of a car that includes all of the relevant data associated with that car. It helps engineers design cars by allowing them to test different designs before building actual models.

A digital twin can help car companies save money because it allows them to avoid wasting time and money on prototypes that won’t work.

4.5) Digital twin BIMs used in AECO (Architecture, Engineering, Construction, and Operations)

The most notable application of digital twins for me is using Building Information Modeling (BIM) for buildings.

The AECO industry uses BIM software to create virtual models for architecture, structure, mechanical, plumbing, and electrical systems.

These models can be used for design simulation, construction planning, facility management, and even sales.

It’s pretty cool that a digital twin BIM can be used to simulate both the environment of a building project before it begins and also for the life of the building operation.

For example, architects use digital twins to test new designs before construction teams start building them. They can do this by creating a 3D digital version of the building and testing different configurations.

Below (in part 6), I describe five ways digital twins and BIM are being used in AECO but perhaps the most crucial benefit is that digital twins have the potential to significantly reduce risk and improve decision-making across the whole AECO sector.

With so much at stake, it is essential that the construction industry gets on board with digital twins and starts reaping the benefits.

5) Standards for Digital Twins

The work started by CDBB and the Digital Twin Consortium is encouraging. It’s still early days for digital twin standards, but some great ideas are brewing.

In general, digital twins should:

  • be accurate representations of the physical world
  • be updated in real-time
  • be accessible to authorized users
  • be secure

In order to:

  • aid the operation and maintenance of existing assets and systems
  • support the planning, design, and construction of new assets and systems
  • improve communication between project stakeholders
  • help manage construction projects
  • reduce costs and improve efficiency
  • help with the handover of assets from construction to operations
  • monitor and manage the performance of assets and systems during their operational life

And result in these benefits:

  • reduced risk and improved decision making
  • increased efficiency and productivity
  • improved safety and reduced downtime
  • enhance customer experience

5.1) Gemini Principles report from the Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB)

The Centre for Digital Built Britain released the Gemini Principles report in December 2018 to support the concepts and principles of digital twins.

The report made several recommendations that included:

  • digital twins should be embedded in government policy and regulation
  • standards and guidance should be developed for the use of digital twins
  • funding should be made available to support the use of digital twins
The Gemini Principles
The Gemini Principles

The report said that the use of digital twins has the potential to transform the AECO sector and deliver significant benefits to society.

It is clear that much work must be done to realize this potential, but the report provides a clear roadmap for how this can be achieved.

5.2) Digital Twin Consortium (DTC)

Other movements to support digital twins include the Digital Twin Consortium (DTC).

The DTC is now helping our industry align everything from definitions to standards and guidance for digital twins.

The Digital Twin Consortium published a document to help healthcare organizations improve their clinical care using an innovative digital health platform.

DTC also runs regular webinars on some exciting implementation topics.

On December 3, 2020, to establish a foundation for future progress, the Digital Twin Consortium released the following definition:

Official Digital Twin Definition
Official Digital Twin Definition – by the Digital Twin Consortium

In March 2022, the DTC also released the Digital Twin Capabilities Periodic Table (an excellent guide By Pieter van Schalkwyk).

This document is aimed at organizations that want to design, develop, deploy and operate digital twins based on use case capability requirements versus the features of technology solutions. The main focus is on how to get started 😃

6) Digital Twin Use Cases in AEC – Five Ways Digital Twins and BIM are being used in AECO

Digital twins may be utilized in a variety of applications – the following are some examples:

  1. Performance of building systems to identify potential issues before they cause problems
  2. Predict the lifecycle of building systems and plan maintenance
  3. Create “virtual prototypes” of new buildings or building renovations to test the feasibility and optimize designs
  4. Monitor occupancy patterns and adjust heating/cooling/lighting
  5. Improve safety and security in buildings by tracking people and equipment movements

Let’s take a look at each one:

6.1) Performance of building systems

Digital twins with BIM can be used to monitor the performance of building systems. By connecting sensors to a digital model of the building, engineers can identify potential issues before they cause problems.

For example, if a sensor detects a water leak, the digital twin can be used to determine where the leak is and how to fix it.

6.2) Predict the project lifecycle of building systems and plan maintenance

Digital twins can also be used to predict the lifecycle of building systems and plan maintenance accordingly. By understanding how a system is used, digital twins can help engineers plan when to perform maintenance.

For example, if a digital twin predicts that a piece of equipment will need to be replaced in five years, the engineer can plan accordingly and budget for the replacement.

6.3) Feasibility of using virtual prototyping to optimize designs

Digital twins can be used to create “virtual prototypes” of new buildings or building renovations. By creating a digital model of the proposed design, architects can test the project’s feasibility and optimize the design.

For example, an architect designing a new office building can use a digital twin to test how the facility will respond to different weather conditions.

6.4) Monitor occupancy and adjust systems

Digital twins can also monitor occupancy patterns and adjust heating/cooling/lighting accordingly. By understanding how people use a building, digital twins can help building managers save energy and improve comfort.

For example, if a digital twin shows that a room is only occupied for an hour each day, the heating/cooling system can be turned off during that time.

6.5) Improve safety and security in buildings

Digital twins can also be used to improve safety and security in buildings. By tracking people and equipment movements, digital twins can help building managers identify potential hazards and respond to emergencies.

For example, if a digital twin shows that a person is in a dangerous area of the building, the security system can be activated to protect them.

Digital twins are a powerful tool that can be used in various applications. By understanding how they work, engineers and architects can use them to improve the performance of buildings.

What do you think? Are digital twins a valuable tool for building design and operations?

7) What you should do now

Digital twins are a versatile tool that can be used in almost any industry – now it’s up to you to plan how you and your organization will benefit 💪

When you start to plan your digital transformation, you must consider how digital twins might be used to reduce risk, improve decision-making, and document the main benefits for your company.

Some questions you might want to start thinking about making sure that you have answers for: What exactly is a digital twin, and why should I be concerned? What is the best way to get started?

Here are some questions you can use in your organization to get people to start thinking about digital twins:

Start thinking about the benefits of digital twins
Questions you can start asking your team

To help you, I also tried to write some simple answers to the most common questions that I’ve had to answer about digital twins.

I hope they help you in your implementation!:

What is a Digital Twin?

Digital Twin Definition

Digital twins are computer models that represent real-world entities and processes. They can be used for various purposes, including product development, manufacturing, and maintenance.

What is a digital twin technology?

Digital twin technology is a combination of hardware that collects real-time data from sensors and software that stores, manages, and computes data and virtual representations of objects and systems. Using digital data and machine learning algorithms, patterns may be detected, predicted, and used to aid decision-making over the lifecycle of the objects and systems. The digital twin technology is often used to dashboard the results so the relevant stakeholders can take that action.

How are digital twins used in building information modeling (BIM)?

Building information modeling (BIM) is used to create virtual 3D models of buildings. These models can be used for construction process planning, facility management, maintenance, marketing, and sales. One example is a BIM model connected to sensors and used in Virtual Reality to access building data throughout the life cycle of the building.

What are the benefits of using digital twins and BIM for the AEC industry?

Digital twins can be used to create virtual models of buildings for everything from construction planning and facility management. These models can include all building equipment and systems – like a computer model of the building’s nervous system! When the building has a high temperature 🤒 or feels sick 🤢, the maintenance team is promptly notified, can find the problem quickly, and act accordingly.

What are some of the challenges associated with digital twins?

Some of the challenges associated with digital twins include data privacy and security and the need for accurate and up-to-date data. Additionally, digital twins are only as good as the models they are based on, so they are only as precise as the digital data synchronized/inputted into them.

What are some of the future applications of digital twins?

Digital twins are already being used in various industries, including Healthcare, manufacturing, and construction. In Healthcare, digital twins are being used to track patients’ progress and plan surgeries. In manufacturing, digital twins are being used to optimize production lines and prevent equipment failures.
One of the most promising applications of digital twins is in the field of Building Information Modeling (BIM). BIM is a process that allows the creation of three-dimensional models of buildings that can be connected in real-time to building sensors. These digital twins can be used to monitor the performance of buildings after they have been constructed, helping to identify issues and improve maintenance.
The potential applications of digital twins are limited only by the imagination. As technology evolves, digital twins will likely play an increasingly important role in our lives.

I blog for the Five BIM Bloggers series.

Every week we share different perspectives on important BIM topics!

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