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.