Making Digital Twins a reality…a practical viewpoint from our latest Webinar

Date Published

21st Oct 2019

Edwina Cramp
New Product Marketing & Communications Manager, IES

On Wednesday 16th October we held our latest Faculty session looking at the current buzz around Digital Twins. A subject close to our heart since the launch of our ICL platform earlier this year. And judging by how well the session was attended, it’s a subject that is high on the agenda for you all as well.

We polled our audience, and over half (52%) of attendees are actively considering using digital twin technology on a particular project.

Which is not surprising, as research by the McKinsey Global Institute indicates that digital transformation can result in productivity gains of 14 to 15 percent and cost reductions of 4 to 6 percent.

You could describe a Digital Twin as the enhancement of a static BIM model with the element of time, and for use at design stages to better plan and execute construction projects by anticipating issues on site before they happen. The ‘Twin’ could then be passed on to the client to assist with ongoing management and maintenance. 

But the real opportunity for digital twins in the Built Environment is their ability to help us realise zero-carbon goals not only for individual buildings, but also for communities. The path to a decentralised, decarbonised and digitalised energy landscape requires a transition to low-carbon energy systems, integration of renewables, and storage solutions, and data analytics to anticipate demand and empower users.

In this vision, buildings become an active element within the energy landscape, consuming as well producing. And by linking a Digital Twin to the real building and the energy network though sensors we can create true Twins at any scale. Twins that bring an understanding of the physics that dictate real-world conditions (such as energy flows, environmental conditions, and material attributes), and Twins which will evolve over the asset’s lifetime using machine learning and AI applied to operational data to identify patterns in use, identify where the operation of the building, group of buildings or network does not match expectation and start to ask why? Such Digital Twins can also be used to plan changes and steps needed for climate mitigation and resilience strategies. 

But where do you get started? A Digital Twin can be as simple or as complex as you need it to be. But, that doesn’t mean there are no barriers to adoption that we as an industry need to overcome.

We polled our audience on this, and asked “What barriers do you think would prevent the use of digital twin technology in your organisation?” With just over half of the audience identifying with them, the top two barriers came out as lack of skills/training and limited access to/lack of data.  

These issues are also the same ones we regularly encounter on live projects. Hence why we’re putting a lot of effort into training and educating, and also looking at how newer IOT technology such as LoRaWAN or other smart sensors can simplify the flow of data.

Finally, to understand where people wanted to start, we asked our audience what they thought was the most important stage of the built environment lifecycle at which to use digital twin technology.

Building operation and control came out on top, which is not surprising, considering retro-engineering within buildings is often reactive. Typical problems show up as high energy bills, occupant dissatisfaction due to poor lighting, or over/under heating. Sometimes problems result from mismatched fabric and systems. Sometimes the issues are operational - poor commissioning of controls is a common theme, change of building use, and greater occupancy density than assumed at design.

With buildings the only constant is change!

Many of the problems are symptoms of underlying issues but it takes time, money and commitment to figure out what’s going on ‘under the hood’ and often a quick fix is implemented to treat the symptom. For example we might retrofit solar panels to counter high electricity bills or localised cooling to counter overheating. Treating the symptoms with a quick fix often ends up costing more, without ever really understanding the root cause. 

This is where Digital Twin technology can step in and help building owners and managers know what to do with all of their data, which is often in different formats, and reported in different systems. The technology can help them dig under the hood and give actionable insights linked to the root cause of issues. It can also enable continuous assessment of the building. Through advanced analytics a large number of variables can be analysed at the same time as they are uploaded, and “live” comparisons allow energy-related issues to be flagged and tackled as soon as they appear. Saving money, time and reducing energy wastage.

We covered a number of real-life applications of our ICL Digital Twin technology within the webinar. 

Click here to access the recording of the full webinar. 

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