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Digital construction 

Three perspectives on digital twins

Everyone's talking about digital buildings and digital twins. We asked three experts to tell us about their experiences in working with building information modeling (BIM), how far digitalization has progressed in the construction industry, and what digital building twins still lack today. 

The building first exists merely in a computer – and yet it's already fully functional, even if only as a digital twin in the virtual world. Modeling buildings in this way lets planners simulate future facility operations long before the first backhoes roll onto the construction site. Digital twins let planners run evacuation scenarios virtually in order to optimally lay out escape routes, for example. It's also possible to tweak the performance of the building’s systems in advance, using the digital twin to test and improve heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning under realistic operating conditions. 

Buildings that are comprehensively planned, tested, and optimized digitally right from the outset offer more safety and security as well greater operating efficiency. And by finalizing planning before construction begins, work is implemented more quickly and smoothly. 


Switching to digital planning means breaking with existing processes and structures, which is why the construction and real estate sectors are not quite this far along yet. Nevertheless, the change from plan-based to data-driven engineering, using building information modeling (BIM), is progressing more quickly than anyone envisaged just a few years ago.

While a number of hurdles remain to be cleared, hardly anyone doubts that digital planning with BIM will be broadly embraced, making digital twins also standard practice for construction projects. The gains in efficiency that digitalization promises in the designing of buildings, and even more so in their operation, are too substantial to be ignored.

The Magazine asked three experts, each of whom has explored BIM from a different perspective, for their thoughts on the topic.

Mark Tait, Investa Property Group

From an investor's viewpoint

On our projects to date, this approach has proven to save time, reduce waste and increase efficiencies.

 

Mark Tait is Group Executive and Head of Commercial Development for the real estate firm Investa, a company based in Sydney, Australia. He's been involved in various major office building projects that were digitally planned. The Magazine asked him about his experience with BIM so far.

"As long term building owners, Investa sees significant value add in the BIM or Digital Engineering approach to new commercial office developments. The benefits extend from early design phase right through to construction delivery and ultimately long term building operation and management. One of the biggest benefits is the transparency and collaboration across multiple stakeholders and disciplines on large projects. On our projects to date, this approach has proven to save time, reduce waste and increase efficiencies.  Most importantly it provides greater certainty on time, cost and quality deliverables, particularly important when pre-committing tenants. We are now selecting our development partners from like-minded companies, like Siemens, who offer, adopt and support Digital Engineering approach to projects."

Richard Petrie, buildingSMART International

From a standardization proponent's viewpoint

Open, sharable information unlocks more efficient, transparent and collaborative ways of working throughout the entire life-cycle of buildings and infrastructure.

 

Richard Petrie is CEO of the advocacy group buildingSMART International. The goal of this non-governmental organization is to develop standardized processes, workflows, and procedures for BIM and establish them worldwide. The Magazine asked him what role open standards will play for digital building data as digitalization advances across the construction and real estate industries.

"Open, sharable information unlocks more efficient, transparent and collaborative ways of working throughout the entire life-cycle of buildings and infrastructure. The growing adoption of new asset delivery processes such as BIM also allows owners and operators of built assets, working with their service partners, to plan their capital investments and understand the likely whole-life costs of maintaining and using those assets for their intended purposes. The benefits of open data standards are substantial, and include: More transparent, collaborative and open workflows; greater information certainty due to a shared vocabulary of industry terms; more open procurement processes; processes that are inclusive for companies large and small; greater re-use of data; less re-keying of the same data and, last but not least, easier integration with linked data created and shared in related industries. ‘BuildingSMART’ helps industry visionaries transform the design, delivery and operation of tomorrow’s built assets. International open digital data-sharing standards are critical to this transformation, helping businesses – owners, architects, engineers, contractors and operators – become global industry leaders, while also mitigating risks, saving time, and reducing costs."

Eric Giese, Siemens Building Technologies

From a solution provider's viewpoint 

While the digital twin is needed initially for planning and construction, it's also intended to provide the basis for building operations moving forward.

 

As Head of the Digital Service Center at Siemens' Building Technologies Division Germany, Eric Giese is responsible for the topic of digital twin. The Magazine asked him what opportunities digital twins open up for building operations of the future.

"When people speak today about the potential of BIM, they're focusing primarily on the optimized planning and construction process and the related cost-savings that can thereby be achieved. Here, it's easy to lose sight of the significant potential offered by the targeted use of the generated data to enhance the buildings’ operations. Ultimately, the costs of operating a building over its entire lifecycle are far greater than the construction costs. Building technologies play a key role in tapping into this potential and optimizing building utilization. While the digital twin is needed initially for planning and construction, it's also intended to provide the basis for building operations moving forward. The technical system data are already being surveyed and collected in real time today. Using these data intelligently in combination with the digital twin enables creation of a sort of cyber-physical system – a continuously up-to-the-minute online digital replica of the building. Suitable analysis methods and artificial intelligence then allow this model to be continuously adjusted and automatically optimized as needs arise, thereby enabling new digital services for enhancing building performance. Such online twins also have the potential to serve as the basis for a new ecosystem, as services for operating the building can be organized in entirely new ways."