Lessons learned from Digital Twin development and deployment

by Dr Graham Kelly | July 1, 2022 |  5 min read

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The term Digital Twin was coined in 2002 by Michael Grieves as part of his product lifecycle management (PLM) research at the University of Michigan. However, it was far from a new concept, NASA for example has been using digital models of real word things for over 50 years, most notably with the Apollo 13 mission.

At BIM Academy we have been delivering on Digital Twins for the over 10 years starting with the creation of an exact digital replica of the entire Northumbria University campus in 2011.

We all know the use of the Digital Twin is expanding, and there is clear evidence Digital Twin technology is transforming the fabric of our buildings. But to maximise its impact, the Digital Twin needs to be all about interoperability, ensuring secure and resilient data flows seamlessly between all parties. This is an important enabler for achieving not only a connection between the asset and its data, but for the realisation of asset optimisation, net zero emissions targets, climate change resilience and a truly circular economy.

To do this we need quality in our data and to understand what the client wants to achieve from generating this data. There is a clear path from data to impact, by extracting information, knowledge, insight and wisdom from our data to ensure what we deliver is impactful. As demonstrated in this fantastic visual from Gaping Void Culture Design Group.

Examples of this are evident in several of our projects, in particular Sydney Opera House and Mass Transit Railway Corporate (MTR), in Hong Kong. There were many lessons learned from these projects for effective data optimisation that drive the development of a Digital Twin.

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera house is one of the world’s most famous structures, a defining icon of the Sydney skyline. Construction of this stunning structure was completed in 1973 at a cost of $102 million AUS – starting with an original estimated build budget of only $7 million AUS!

As this landmark dates back to the 70’s, when BIM Academy first started working with the Opera House team in 2013, many of the original data systems we extremely outdated and manually operated. Needing to increase accessibility of key operational and maintenance information, BIM Academy created a unique BIM4FM solution to achieve operational and cost efficiencies to support an enhanced visitor experience, playing a pivotal role in the conservation and preservation of the Opera House’s cultural programme. This has enabled the Opera House to start the implementation of a web based BIM4FM interface that will link a constantly maintained geo spatially accurate model of the building to its engineering, maintenance and building control systems.

Lessons learned from this project were that it was essential to put the outcomes first. To establish what needed to change, why it needed to change and what benefits it would bring. Sometimes as an industry we get caught up in the technology and not really understanding the problem. The technology is the conduit to getting what we want, it is simply part of the process, not the whole solution.

From the outset, for the Opera House we identified where the gaps were in their data, but just as importantly the outdated method of data collection, then provided the solutions needed to make building operations and maintenance run more efficiently.

Mass Transit Railway Corporate (MTR)

Mass Transit Rail Corporation (MTR) is regarded as one of the world’s leading railway operations, carrying on average 5.9 million passengers per day throughout Hong Kong.

BIM Academy was asked to support the development of a project which would investigate the feasibility and business case for collating and linking asset data from various 3D digital and 2D conventional formats derived from ongoing rail infrastructure projects and migrating this data to a new asset and facilities management system.

The BIM Academy team took 3D geometric models, metadata and handover documentation from the construction and maintenance team, particularly those working on the Kwun Tong Line extension, then reconfigured the data to generate consistency and compatibility prior to successfully testing the migration of data to the new system.

Also, as part of the study, we demonstrated practical savings in time and cost in relation to the response times and efficiency of the operational teams. This return on investment was then used internally within the MTR to support the business case for the further expansion of its BIM programme.

In this instance, we looked at what was going to bring the most value to the client before putting together a Digital Twin. The value to MTR was the cost savings mapped against the alignment of operational services.

In both of these projects the power of the Digital Twins we created for Sydney Opera House and MTR, comes from connecting real world assets with real world data, so that both clients can better visualise, understand and maintain them.

The development and deployment of the Digital Twins for both clients help them understand the past, view present conditions and prevent future problems. They have become a critical part in informing decision making through insight, analysis and simulation.

As the Digital Twins mature, other benefits can be seen through reduced maintenance costs and predictions can be made on how all assets will perform in the future. Equally, as the hype around Digital Twin grows, we need to make sure that the benefits to the client are at the forefront of how to maximise the use of a Digital Twin to achieve real-time results.

To understand more about BIM Academy’s work on Digital Twins, contact Graham at [email protected].