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Digital twins - what and why

Facilities managers have a lot on their plate in managing workplaces, where the demands are ever-changing and expectations increasingly growing. Technology and software are providing helpful shortcuts, insights and automation but are also adding to FM’s workload in the short term while these systems are implemented and learnt. Despite this, the benefits still outweigh the drawbacks and Service Works Global’s FM Tech Survey, in partnership with FM magazine and FMJ, found that organisations are keen to invest in more technology like sensors, IoT and BIM. With this in mind, the next big thing in FM is likely to be the ‘digital twin’. But what is it, and where does it fit within the management of a building’s lifecycle?

Digitised building data

FMs are turning to building information modelling (BIM) software and processes to digitise site data, which provides them access to the required information at the right time; an increased quantity of information throughout the building’s lifecycle, and improved service through automated processes.

As part of digitising data, 3D models are created of a building – either included from the outset if BIM was used during planning and construction, or from drawings and laser scanning for new buildings. The accuracy of the model is between 2mm and 100mm depending on the level of detail required, and it represents a digital, scale version of the building.

What is a digital twin?

Once the BIM model gains access to continuous data, such as through sensors, then it becomes a digital twin and an undeniable weapon in an FM’s arsenal. A digital twin is the next level of BIM in providing data and enabling improved service.

BIM models integrated with CAFM software can provide the FM team with key information such as classifications of each space, minimum / maximum temperatures, types of materials, and extensive details about each asset. A BIM model can even be paired with virtual reality headsets to allow simulated site visits from anywhere in the world.

A digital twin replicates all aspects of the building and its performance, and can contain four layers of information:

  • Physical layer (the ‘as built’ data)
  • Building system layer (a BMS to deliver real-time data from systems and components)
  • People layer (delivering behavioural data)
  • Enterprise layer (CAFM software relating to processes across facilities and property management)

Smarter building management

The digital twin compiles the above data to form a virtual replica of the building’s state in real time. Instead of viewing data from various sources on multiple reports, the digital twin can be used to view performance, identify trends and detect building errors – in the same place. Twins can also be used to test different scenarios – like the impact on air quality of a new asset, or how cooling systems would cope with more people in the building. This reduces the impact of disruption or dips in performance of the ‘live’ building environment.

Tesla famously creates a digital twin of every car it sells to monitor the condition of each one and identify any abnormal changes. Once flagged, a software update is dispatched to the car in question, or if it needs to go to a garage, details on how to fix it are provided so that Tesla owners experience the least possible disruption and downtime.

Evolution not replacement

While some new technologies naturally replace others, like CAFM replaces spreadsheets and paperwork, digital twins are built on BIM and do not replace it. Both are built on 3D models, but digital twins represent more advanced modelling. For example, for FMs looking to use sensors, the BIM model helps them plan their locations and visually understand the data from them. As more data is added to the model, the more easily the FM team can diagnose and fix problems – even before they become apparent to the building’s occupants.

For more information about BIM and digital twins, contact Service Works Global here.


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