Separated at Handover: Your Building’s Digital Twin

17 October 2018 Kingspan Insulation Asia

Call it “the tragedy of the handover”: as soon as an owner takes possession of their new building, much of the knowledge which was required to design, construct and service it disappears.
Typically, along with the keys, or during “soft landing” phase, a person in the supply chain will give the brand-new occupant a package, often a box, containing a few technical documents, CD-ROMs, USB sticks and other bits of paper. These might include OM manuals, equipment warranties and some info about building maintenance.
Of course, information might be missing or incorrect and no one would be any the wiser; the building might not perform as expected and cost more to run – for reasons that may be unclear. If this happens, the facilities manager (FM) must search high and low for missing specs or data to try to correct errors.
Things don’t improve with age. FMs come and go; components suffer wear and tear or break, and at different rates – but no one knows when that’s likely to happen. Which manufacturer made the now-cracked window? Is there an electrical cable or a pipe behind that wall we need to know about while carrying out a refurb? An army of expensive and perhaps uncertain professionals need to be called on for a needless second survey of the project before work can be done.
Thankfully, building operation is getting easier thanks to the better creation and stewardship of such information. Building information modelling (BIM) is already revolutionising the way that the supply chain works together, planning a digital version of the project in 3D before and alongside the physical one.
This information can be utilised throughout the building operation stage. When the structure is complete, this virtual building – call it a “digital twin” – will hold all the information needed about layout, the exact location of its services in the structure, air-tightness, materials and general building performance. Even the project’s geographical data such as expected annual temperatures and daylight are included.

But the digital twin needs to closely represent what is actually built, not what was planned before groundbreaking. In most cases, the original BIM model will not reflect the actual building structure, because changes are often made to building design throughout the course of the project. By harnessing the full potential of BIM, a project team will capture these modifications in the digital model.
The good news is that UK BIM usage is up 12% year-on-year to 2018 with projections by the NBS National BIM Report that saturation will reach 90% in the next three to five years. In the US, Allied Market Research forecasts that the BIM industry will experience mean annual growth of 21.6% from 2016 to 2022, recouping $11.7bn over that time period. But the future is always uncertain.
What will need to happen to achieve this – and in order to make the digital twin truly useful? Firstly, everyone along the building project supply chain need to fully embrace the process. The sometimes overlooked bit here is what happens when contractors start to rely on the model as much as designers. 80% of this model is related to product, 20% to geometry, so integrating manufacturers’ and suppliers’ data will drive BIM evolution.
Held in object libraries, components will have to mesh with those of other BIM participants for a fully functioning simulation. These should be dynamically updated and accessible by URLs or QR codes for traceability over the early life of the building. Products can no longer be represented in isolation; they will have to relate to the system being used. Manufacturers will have to work together. 
The good news is that, in-use inclusion of core building element definitions is becoming easier. For example, last year, in the UK, the Building Research Establishment (BRE) released a BIM DataBook. The product library allows registered users to link their BIM objects and associated data to the fixed manufacturers’ data source.
Manufacturer’s expertise can provide a return on investment and empower everyone in the chain, from pension fund investor all the way through to facilities manager – and the next owner. With product-related data at the core, models will one day be able to predict facility management, alerting owners and operators when they need to carry out routine checks and services. Some believe replacement parts, such as chairs, motors and fittings, might eventually be ordered directly by and from the model.
Whatever happens, it is clear that the evolution and capability of the BIM digital twin is in its infancy. It is up to everyone involved in the making and running of buildings to ensure it becomes the hub of all projects, truly realising its potential importance for the future of the sector.
At that point, digital twins of buildings against which performance can be measured; which suppliers can interrogate in order to carry out change-of-use or refurb; which let FMs know when one of their doors needs replacing and then offers to put in an order with the supplier will take the place of dusty, static, OM manuals.

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