The concept of mirroring physical assets in the virtual realm has been around as early as the 1960s. NASA has carried out the twinning idea, most notably during its Apollo 13 moon mission, in which digital duplicates were created to match the systems of their spacecrafts. The term “Digital Twin” was later coined by John Vickers, principal technologist at NASA, with its concept and model introduced publicly in 2002 by Michael Grieves, scientist for advanced manufacturing at Florida Institute of Technology.
Fast forward to present time, Digital Twin technology is transforming the built environment as an advanced, digitised mirror of physical assets and infrastructure. With this emerging technology evolving at light speed and ripe for market leaders at its forefront, what separates Willow’s solution from other key players? More importantly, what are some of the key lessons learned that owners should be conscious of when adopting Digital Twins?
BIM ≠ Twin
While the term “Digital Twin” rolls easily off the virtual page and into the imagination, it’s important to recognise that not all twins are created equal, as our Global Head of Real Estate and Willow President, Shaun Klann explains.
“There are misconceptions that BIM and Twin are synonymous. However, this is far from the case. For example, a conventional 3D BIM model does not represent the living operations of a building or piece of infrastructure, as it does not include live data feeds from any sensors or submetering system.”
“BIM is not a fundamental requirement for Digital Twin creation. It is simply one aspect of creating spatial context for asset data, but this can easily be created with any spatial context format. In fact, this is often the standard method used by Willow when creating Digital Twins of existing assets,” Klann says.
Buildings and infrastructure are a lot like snowflakes
Whilst a digitally driven approach is already standard operating procedure for many other industries including manufacturing, finance, and telecommunications, the challenge for the built environment has been the highly individual and specialised nature of project delivery. Simply put, each project has unique circumstances, constraints, and players that makes the scalability of digital practices inherently difficult.
“Digital Twins developed for other industries such as manufacturing have a strategic advantage that real estate and infrastructure projects lack,” Klann says.
“Specifically, when a Digital Twin is developed for, say an automotive engine, the manufacturer of that engine benefits from the scaled nature of production. Millions of dollars of R&D and custom software can be justified because they produce thousands of identical products.“
Developing Digital Twins for buildings and infrastructure carries a number of inherent obstacles that can be mitigated by having the right partner for the job.
When selecting your partner, pedigree is essential
Willow’s long history across a range of sectors has allowed the company to leverage the Digital Twin concepts for the specific requirements within real estate and infrastructure projects.
“Our background gives us first-hand understanding of what contractors, owners, and facilities managers need,” says Klann. “Willow accounts for the unique workflows and requirements of the construction, building operations, and infrastructure industry.“
An example of this is Willow’s Twin Creator, a module within the WillowTwin™ that collects and validates all the necessary data points for Digital Twin creation during construction. Through the Twin Creator, head contractors and asset owners can better manage supply chain deliverables and have full transparency of their data.
The approach also means that a Digital Twin can be created for an existing asset, even where BIM documentation is non-existent.
You need the right team of experts to guide the process
As Digital Twins are still in their infancy in the built world, Willow takes a hands-on approach to working with our customers. In many instances, the project delivery team needs support to create, validate, and manage data in the right way.
“Willow embeds digital project managers amongst the design and delivery team working on the owner’s behalf. Our team ensures information is being created in the right way.“
Willow works as the hub between contractor, subcontractor, and the owner to ensure the project vision will be delivered effectively.
Digital Twins should be integration-ready and secure
Another vital aspect of a functional and useful Digital Twin is the ability to integrate with and have interoperability with other data sources including third-party apps and software packages.
Most of us have experienced the frustration of a software package or digital device that simply is not compatible with an app we really want to use. Take that to a building or infrastructure scale and there lies a massive problem.
“Willow sees that the Digital Twin is more than just a tool for data storage. It is a gateway for users to access best-in-class smart building technology from around the world,” Klann says.
“The vision for Willow’s technology is to use the Digital Twin as an integration layer to enable a fast and secure connection with 3rd party software providers. Through a single integration to Willow, customers can access a Marketplace of best-in-class solutions, integrating quickly and securely with their data.“
The true power of Willow is when multiple applications interact to produce new insights that owners need. For example, correlating your building floor plate with occupancy, ventilation, cleaning, and even social distancing data to create smart alarms and warnings for owners, so you can be as proactive and as safe as possible.
Finally, Digital Twins are not just for boffins
Whist Digital Twin creation takes extremely skilled and talented groups of people working with vast amounts of data and complex code, the end result must have a user-friendly interface.
Willow’s software has been designed in such a way that any project team or facilities management personnel can quickly learn and upskill on the platform.
“Our ambition is to develop solutions that make the complex simple,” he says. “When we develop products, we have a rule: ‘From seven to seventy years old’,” Klann explains. “We want products to be intuitive as much as they are powerful.“
Willow’s vision is that the Digital Twin will enable a big data play for real estate and infrastructure that provides value for multiple user groups including owners, operators, and occupants. “Whilst we are focusing primarily on building operations at present, our roadmap will include use cases and functionality for other user groups in the industry.“
Where to start?
The concept of a Digital Twin offers great potential for organisations in the built world with the promise to increase operational efficiency, drive resource optimisation, improve asset management, deliver cost savings, improve productivity, and boost user engagement.
Willow sees that 2020 is the year where Digital Twins become commonplace and are widely accepted as a fundamental technology solution.
Klann says the Real Estate and Infrastructure verticals are “embarking on their own Industry 4.0 moment,” thanks largely in part to Digital Twin technology.
“Major players in both industries are looking for ways to leverage their own big data and the resulting applications of machine learning, artificial intelligence and the like. We have been working closely with many bluechip companies to create the Digital Twin strategy, and can attest that whilst the industry is still in its early development, those investing now will reap the benefits long term.“
If you are interested in how Digital Twins can benefit your portfolio or project, please reach out to Willow.