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Digital Twins Are More Than BIMs

3D model of Digital Twins are More Than BIMS
Digital Twins are More Than BIMS

When talking about digital twins, the first point of order needs to be getting an accurate definition of the term. While it has certainly moved past the point of simply being a buzzword to one where there are concrete gains to be made from implementation, there is still confusion around just what it means. In particular, as Dr. Abdullah pointed out both in the webinar and in our follow-up conversation, there is a lot of conflation between digital twins and building information modeling (BIM).

From a Geo Week News article.

Undoubtedly, BIM is a crucial piece of the planning and design phases of a construction project, providing a 3D digital model of a building. In fact, BIM is an extremely important component of digital twin, with the latter often being built out in large part from the former. That, however, does not mean the same thing. Whereas BIM is simply a static model of a building that doesn’t include real-time updates, a digital twin takes is essentially a living, breathing model, using things like Internet of Things (IoT) sensors to provide live, up-to-date information for the owner.

Benefits of Digital Twins

Once the definition of the term is in place, we can really get into the benefits of implementation for digital twins, which was the main topic of the original webinar. The construction industry has been in need of better processes to streamline their workflows, with Mr. Nichols citing a 2017 McKinsey report which indicated that total world productivity had increased by 2.8 percent annually over the previous two decades, whereas in the construction industry specifically, that number was only at one percent. Digital twins, and reality capture more broadly, can provide a huge return on investment for adopters, who can “maintain a visual source of truth,” as Mr. Nichols put it, as well as provide a relatively simple source which can be accessed remotely and easily by any relevant stakeholder. Just having that sort of seamless collaboration alone can be a huge preventative measure for major, and costly, alterations later in the process.

The other important factor to keep in mind around digital twins, especially when thinking about whether the initial investment will be worth it on the back end, is that it is not simply a design and planning tool. Since it is a living, breathing model that inputs real-time updates, the digital twin can also be leaned upon throughout the life of the building, particularly when it comes to maintenance issues. As one example, the information gathered from sensors can often highlight an issue with perhaps a leaking pipe much earlier than would otherwise be detected, leading to huge savings for maintenance.

Another example pointed out in the webinar was the building that collapsed in Miami in June of 2021, shortly before the conversation took place. A digital twin likely would not have prevented that, but the source of the problem would have been much easier to find within a digital twin, where one can backtrack to any point in the project to find potential issues, rather than needing to dig through massive amounts of physical files. In our follow-up conversation, Dr. Abdullah indicated that these types of events do push people towards implementing these tools.

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