by Wahib Saif | September 21, 2023 | 5 min read
Technological advancements continue to shape the ever evolving construction world. Among the latest innovations creating a buzz is the concept of the “digital twin”.
Although it may sound like a term straight out of a sci-fi movie, a digital twin has the potential to revolutionise the management of construction projects. Imagine having a virtual replica of your construction site – one with which you can analyse, visualise and interact with realtime construction data. This is what a digital twin promises, and in this article, we will explore what it can offer during the construction phase.
Before diving into the reasons behind the necessity of a digital twin, it is key to understand what it is. A digital twin can be defined as a virtual version of a physical object, system, or process. It is not just a static 3D model; rather, it is a dynamic, data driven, and up to date representation that mirrors its real world counterpart in real time. A digital twin becomes possible through a wide range of data sensing, communication, and processing technologies. This includes IoT (Internet of Things) devices, wireless networking, cloud computing and AI (Artificial Intelligence) functions. Here are some key benefits that a construction site digital twin can offer:
Construction sites are associated with daily dynamic activities, with several moving elements onsite and keeping track of work progress can be a challenging task. A digital twin offers real time monitoring capabilities, leveraging data sensing technologies. Captured data can be analysed using AI functions to present meaningful KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). These KPIs can be tracked and visualized on a common dashboard, allowing for effective progress tracking. With an effective visualisation of progress data, project teams will be able to identify potential deviations from the plan early and take corrective actions.
One of the most compelling reasons to create a digital twin of a physical construction site is its ability to provide a unified dashboard for visualising construction data. Typically, construction data is fragmented and reported in different file formats, such as spreadsheet files, text reports, images, and others. Integrating and analysing them when needed can be challenging. A digital twin provides an interactive visualisation capability with a dynamic 3D representation that integrates construction data streaming from multiple sources. This enhanced visualisation gives stakeholders seamless access to data-driven insights, empowering them with effective decision making capabilities.
A construction site is inherently risky, with numerous safety hazards that can lead to project delays and cost overruns. With effective visualization capabilities, the digital twin enables stakeholders to identify dangerous zones on the virtual construction site and simulate proactive mitigation strategies. Having a digital twin also enables real-time tracking of on-site personnel and machinery using wearable sensors and spatial tracking devices.
These sensors can provide instant alerts in response to potential safety threats, allowing for rapid intervention and accident prevention. For instance, if a worker enters a predetermined working zone around an excavator, an alert will be triggered to alarm both the worker and the operator. Performance data of operating equipment, such as cranes and loaders, can also be gathered to ensure their structural health against overloading or other failures that can lead to accidents or equipment damage.
Another key aspect of digital twins is their ability to perform predictive analytics. Collected data can be analysed using machine learning algorithms to identify different trends and patterns that can be used to predict potential issues in future operations. For example, analysing the operation and usage data of equipment can forecast when maintenance is likely to be required. This proactive approach can help avoid unexpected breakdowns, reduce downtime, and extend the equipment’s lifespan.
Sustainability is a growing concern in the construction industry. Digital twins can assist in designing environmentally friendly buildings and infrastructure by simulating the impact of different construction materials and methods. With real time monitoring of construction materials logistics and equipment operations, the digital twin enables the estimation of embodied carbon emissions and highlights their extensive sources. This can assist in the selection of more sustainable options that reduce a project’s carbon footprint.
A digital twin’s usefulness extends beyond the construction phase. It not only documents the as-built product of the project but also the different processes that went into its construction. It becomes a valuable tool for facility management and maintenance. With an accurate digital representation of a built asset, facility managers can streamline maintenance, track asset performance, and plan for future upgrades or renovations.
Researcher, BIM Academy
Wahib joined BIM academy in 2023 as a researcher. He completed his master’s degree in construction management from King Fahd University in 2022. Wahib is currently works with BIM Academy whilst completing his PhD research in digital twin framework for connected construction sites at Northumbria University.
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