In July 2022 temperatures in the UK soared to a staggering 40C, reaching a record-breaking high and causing the Met Office to issue the first ever red weather warning for heat waves across the country. A first of its kind Level 4 Heat-Health Alert was issued by the UK Health Security Agency as the extreme heat posed a serious risk to life, triggering wildfires, traffic chaos and a rise in hospitalisations. A statement made by the World Weather Attribution service claims intense heat waves are now ten times more likely to occur due to greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activity and are a direct result of climate change. The global warming crisis and the importance of achieving net zero targets by 2050 has focussed the attention of the construction sector to tackle sustainability challenges.
In this article, Key Account Manager Natalie Palframan, with support from AHR Architects, explores what role Digital Twin plays in overcoming these challenges and helping architects and construction companies work towards net zero building design.
What is a Digital Twin?
A digital twin is an output of a Building Information Modelling (BIM) process and is effectively a live version of the project or asset view. Whereas BIM is a process to generate and manage digital representations of the physical and functional characteristics of a building, Digital Twin is a digital replica of physical assets, processes, and systems. By using real-time data, the project is brought to life with dynamic ability to evolve and transform instantaneously – ensuring it is always accurate and up to date. Using data from a series of connected sensors, a digital twin can shape and map out the journey of an asset all the way through its life cycle from testing to use in the real world. With Internet of Things (IoT) data, specific indicators of a building’s health and performance, such as temperature and humidity, can be measured. This technology has elevated building design to a new level.
How are Digital Twins supporting the Construction Industry to Overcome Challenges?
Construction represents one of the largest sectors in the UK economy employing over 3.1 million people, equivalent to almost 10% of the workforce. However, it faces a number of different challenges such as skilled labour shortages, Project KPIs (budget and timeline issues), poor productivity and profitability and sustainability challenges. Digital Twin technology can play a pivotal role in overcoming these challenges.
The ability to create a virtual replica of a potential or actual building, and the processes, people, systems, and devices within the space means that a test environment can be set-up to identify and eradicate any problems before construction starts and the building is operational. This is a great way to eliminate costly mistakes and solve clash detection (where elements of your building occupy the same space and essentially ‘clash’ with each other). A Digital Twin uses predictive learning technology, a form of artificial intelligence, to identify failures before they occur and find solutions to improve operations and maintenance.
It can also be used to improve safety aspects of the design and improve the building’s efficiency and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) ratings. This is important in ensuring the design meets regulatory requirements and sustainability targets. Smart estates can be created to maximise efficiency where Digital Twin technology can optimise heating and ventilation, and lighting and access control. For example, it can identify which rooms in a university have been booked out by students so if a room is empty, the lights and heating can be turned off to reduce energy consumption and reduce running costs.
Digital Twin – Designing a Sustainable Future
Digital Twin technology is a driving force in digital innovation. It allows designers and developers to test out creative ideas by utilising digital simulations, reducing the timeframe to produce viable designs and helping to keep the project timings on track for completion. Digital Twin technology is cloud-based and so promotes a collaborative working environment where all project information is accessible online – making communication between the client and the project delivery team easier to manage. It also provides every detail about the design and build ensuring a positive user experience. For example, the smallest detail such as the exact make and model of a lightbulb is recorded, so that if it needs replacing, the estates team can simply reorder what they need.
The technology offered by Digital Twins provides a revolutionary platform for architects and developers to create visual representations of the build, helping to monitor energy consumption, air quality, waste management, heating, water leakage and the overall sustainability of the asset. The UK Green Building Council claim that operational carbon emitted when a building is in use (heating, cooling, power) is estimated to account for 30% of the UK’s total carbon emissions. Digital Twin technology is a giant leap forward in helping the construction industry to reduce carbon emissions in the built environment and realistically support net zero targets.
Procure Partnerships is a dedicated UK construction specific framework dedicated to supporting public bodies achieve their strategic environmental and sustainability commitments and deliver meaningful social value objectives.
Lee McDougall, Geomatic Consultancy Director at AHR: “Digital Twins can bring a range of benefits to building owners and facilities teams. From improving safety to helping predict potential maintenance issues, sectors such as healthcare and higher education have long been using these systems to help manage and maintain their estates, and the housing sector should certainly consider the potential of what a digital twin can offer.
AHR has developed an expertise in creating Building Information Models both for new builds and (using point cloud data captured through highly accurate laser scanning) for existing buildings. The BIM can then be developed so that, rather than just containing static construction information, it also provides live feedback from the various components used in its makeup – effectively creating the basis for a Digital Twin”