The untapped potential of the digital twin
The digitalization of the construction industry is well under way, and its benefits have been understood and largely also embraced. During recent years, the traditional and slow-to-change construction industry has digitized its sales process and project management. Nowadays, many developers provide the home folder to their customers in a digital form. CAD models, Building Information Models (BIM), and construction software such as GBuilder are already a part of everyday life in larger construction companies. Construction site handovers are increasingly carried out digitally, and no longer by delivering paper documents. Today, also inspections and annual repairs can be handled reliably and conveniently, as all the information is maintained in the same place. However, after the digital handover has taken place, maintaining the documentation generated during the construction process is often still an issue.
An impressive amount of documentation is generated during a building’s lifecycle. It is not only produced before delivery but also later as a product of various annual maintenance activities and warranty repairs. Property managers and residents change, repairs are commissioned by different stakeholders. Stacks of paper and folders start to build up, some here, the rest maybe there. Information relevant for maintenance work may be lost after the previous property manager ceased operations. Critical information that should be available to all stakeholders becomes fragmented. Gaps start to build. The problems and resentment caused by this information fragmentation and potential deficiencies after the handover are obvious. There are costs involved in searching and distributing documents such as operating instructions, maintenance instructions, and various measurement protocols. Who is responsible for keeping this enormous amount of information up to date and for making it available to all stakeholders? This may mean misunderstandings and controversies – at worst, legal ones.
Laws are currently being implemented in many countries to improve the quality of construction and to promote digitalization. New technical requirements are emerging for low-carbon and life-cycle properties of buildings, as well as documenting and maintaining this information. The digital twin is a virtual replicant of a building, created and maintained by utilizing 3D BIM data models. In BIM modelling, architecture, engineering, and construction people all work using the same 3D environment, which makes the process of planning and constructing buildings smoother and more efficient. Although digital twins are already widely used in the construction industry, their potential and benefits are perhaps not yet fully understood. The digital twin can and should also include other information relevant to the building, such as contracts, construction documents, and maintenance information. Ideally, the digital twin can also be accessed by maintenance personnel and the inhabitants themselves.
Some of the benefits of the digital twin are obvious. Home materials and potential CO2 emissions and chemicals are of interest to end-users who, today, are increasingly environmentally conscious. Having access to more up-to-date information allows a more accurate assessment of future renovation needs and resale value. The digital twin is of great help to maintenance companies as the entry level information is ready for planning maintenance and repairs. Repairs and renovations can be planned and budgeted cost-effectively, and errors are also significantly reduced. Furthermore, the resulting documentation can be transferred effortlessly to the digital twin. The digital twin allows sharing the documentation in a controlled manner with all parties during the digital handover. The gathering data will no longer be fragmented or lost, but becomes enriched and useful for the twin’s counterpart in the real world throughout its life cycle. As residents, owners, and property offices change, the digital twin remains available to all stakeholders.
This information not only solves the problems of fragmentation of building-specific data. From the builder’s perspective, the greatest benefits, in the long run, may lie elsewhere: Data, such as material selections by residents, is accumulated from the site and may also benefit the future. It helps gather knowledge for optimizing future needs and for predicting local and general trends more accurately. This benefits the entire production chain. For example, predicting tile choices can help optimize supply and demand, which also reduces storage needs. The data offered by the digital twin can help optimize the next construction project right from the planning and pre-marketing phases. The big data, generated by projects also after their completion, create significant and indisputable capital for its holder.