By John Turner, VP of Innovative Solutions, Gafcon
You are a building or infrastructure owner. You have made the decision. You have decided that a Digital Twin would be beneficial in your business. How do you now implement successfully? How do you balance the undoubted benefits against the cost of implementation? To start, lets consider the definition of a Digital Twin that has been adopted by Digital Twin Consortium:
A digital twin is a virtual representation of real-world entities and processes, synchronized at a specified frequency and fidelity.
- Digital twin systems transform business by accelerating holistic understanding, optimal decision-making, and effective action.
- Digital twins use real-time and historical data to represent the past and present and simulate predicted futures.
- Digital twins are motivated by outcomes, tailored to use cases, powered by integration, built on data, guided by domain knowledge, and implemented in IT/OT systems.
Unless the digital twin you have chosen to implement is totally self-contained, and that would be unusual in the world of buildings and infrastructure, it will have to:
- Be populated with data flowing from upstream or previous time phases in the digital lifecycle, for example a digital twin focusing on operational use cases would need to be populated with data from Planning, Design, Procurement and Construction phases
- Communicate with other systems within the same phase of the digital lifecycle:
- Pass data to downstream systems, which are systems that require the data in a later time phase of the digital lifecycle.
With due consideration of the above definition of a digital twin there are therefore key elements of the Digital Twin that are enabled externally. It is likely that your organization will have multiple digital twins or an evolving digital twin that will eventually stabilize into an operational model. These may be provided by different and competing software vendors. The question is how to link the data flows between the different digital twins into a holistic and beneficial system for an owner. Your environment may look something like the figure below.
Digital Twin Consortium defines the digital thread as a mechanism for correlating information across multiple dimensions of the virtual representation, where the dimensions include (but are not limited to) time or lifecycle stage (including design intent), kind-of-model, and configuration history; the mechanism generally relies on stable, consistent real-world identifiers. Why should you be so interested in it?
The business value will be derived from the use cases contained within and supported by the digital twin. However, that business value will only be enabled in a cost-effective manner if the digital twins can communicate via the digital thread rather than having to be manually populated. It has been estimated that the cost of manually populating an IoT digital twin can be as high as 1% of the cost of construction. Anything that can reduce that cost would be beneficial. So how can this be done?
It is suggested that the following five steps can increase the value of your digital twin by containing the cost of implementation.
- Provide standards from an owner’s perspective - In order for systems to communicate effectively they need to have a common understanding of the data that is exchanged, just as people need a common language and a common interpretation of the idioms of that language, “ A cool room,” meaning a cold room or a trendy or acceptable location. This is normally done by means of BIM standards and guidelines and data standards with an accompanying data dictionary together with all the technical constraints that systems integration provides.
- Identify opportunities to do once and deploy many times - Computers are very good at replicating and automating tasks. Identify all the tasks within the digital lifecycle and extract and build them in a form that enables reuse. This could be something as simple as updating an equipment schedule or as complex as the reuse of a design of an office or a conference room, or even of a complete data center. This automation and reuse will provide the cost savings to cover the investment to implement other parts of the process, which will enable more cost savings, and so on.
- Enable a digital thread through all processes and phases - Assess and understand all the components and processes that contribute to the value chain and package them in an integrated manner rather than allowing the current silos apparent in all organizations to propagate and strengthen. Collaboration cannot flourish in a siloed organization but a requirement to implement a digital thread will quickly confront the silos and enable efficiencies in the organization. This is not just a technical exercise. It will also involve a great deal of organizational change management and is often something best addressed by leveraging the expertise of a consulting organization to avoid the impression that one of the silos is riding roughshod over the others. A simple example is that a decision to reduce cost in the construction phase, for example, using a lower quality of paint, could increase the cost of operations as the paint would have to be maintained more frequently. Processes involving more collaboration and data flows that communicate the consequences of each decision to all parties in the digital thread will enable a better overall total cost of ownership and hence increase the value of the digital thread.
- Configure systems to support the digital thread - The digital thread could be enabled manually, but this would introduce human error and rework all of which adds cost. Far better to ensure that collaboration becomes institutional by implementing systems that support it and can provide the transparency and visibility on all processes to enable the cooperation and teamwork that makes any business successful. A great example of this is that much data is lost to the Digital Thread because it resides in proprietary systems or systems used to support the siloed parties that contribute to the process, for example designers, general contractors and trade partners. What better way to enable collaboration between all parties and phases than for the Owner to enable systems to support the digital thread.
- Provide supervision to enable the digital thread - Every building or infrastructure project is brought to life under the watchful eye of a project or construction manager. Every operational building is cared for by a Facilities Manager. Why would a digital representation of that building or infrastructure project be any different? Appoint knowledgeable resources to manage the digital thread that enables the digital lifecycle and ensures success and a predictable return of investment in your digital twin.
Digital twins have the power to transform an organization through the insights and use cases that they deliver. Do not underestimate the power of the digital thread to also deliver transformational and positive improvements.