Skip to content
Site search
Digital Transformation

Digital twins in design and construction: ten lessons – part 1

How will digital twins evolve in the design and construction industry in the future, and what is their untapped potential? What is necessary for their adoption? In the first of this two-part article, we share the findings from our recent webinars.

Kay Pitman, WBEF Manager
21 June 2022

Digital twins are a combination of technologies

Cristina Savian MSc MBA MIET, CEO and Founder, BE-WISE presents the findings of the paper ‘Digital twins from design and construction to handover of built assets’. She explains: ‘BIM is not a mandatory starting point. However, we found that those organisations with a high BIM maturity were in a much better position to implement digital twins.’ However, its not one technology that you can get on board and it will solve all the problems, says Peter El Hajj, National Digital Twin Programme Lead at Centre for Digital Built Britain. Digital twins are developed through a combination of technologies and data coming together. These technologies can include BIM, cloud computing, big data, Internet of Things and 5G mobile internet. ‘Understanding that combination of technology and data that is needed, the requirements for those technologies and information you need is essential to the successful use of digital twins.’ 

Beyond cost: stating the value proposition

There is a lot of focus in industry on costs as a barrier to digital twin adoption, explains Bola Abisogun OBE FRICS, National Digital Twin Programme Lead at the Centre of Digital Built Britain. ‘We need to use different language and ask: what is the return on investment to our digital twin, what is the value proposition? If we do this is there is going to be an upside. The research shows this, the question is: how do you value and quantify it?’

‘In the UK, we have a regulatory environment under the Building Safety Act 2022 that says we need to capture, create, hold and maintain the golden thread of information for building safety’, continues Bola Abisogun. ‘That means from inception through to the end of the lifecycle of a built asset. We need to think about investing in digital twins as a solution for the longer term and putting people at the core of our ‘why’.’ Cristina Savian agrees: ‘We can’t really wait for more incidents like Grenfell before we start thinking about the golden thread of information.’

We need to use different language and ask: what is the return on investment to our digital twin, what is the value proposition?

Bola Abisogun
OBE FRICS, National Digital Twin Programme Lead at the Centre of Digital Built Britain.

A system that thrives on collaboration and accountability

 ‘Around 75% of the cost of a building over its lifecycle comes from its operation phase’, states Pierpaolo Franco, Vice President – International Market Development, Glodon. Incorporating stakeholders from the whole lifecycle would be a terrific advantage to the design and construction phase. ‘From the very moment of design, it’s essential to consider how the building will be used and operated: to start the process with everyone on the same page, including facilities managers and occupiers.’

‘Design that is reverse integrated can definitely reduce the amount of rework that needs to be done during the construction phase, agrees Peter El Hajj.  ‘You can use simulation to evaluate the building impact on environmental and social factors, and on health and safety: what will happen in the case of an accident,’ he says.

The better the data, the better the decision-making

Digital twins are about making better use of data and technology to improve interventions in the real world. Peter El Hajj explains: ‘Organisations operating in the design and construction phase who wish to improve the maturity of their information management practices will create a strong foundation for a digital twin strategy. One of the prime use cases us the ability to rehearse and assess different scenarios and options before going into construction or operation. It also applies when you have multiple sectors coming together. When you’re deciding how best to intervene at city or regional level – where to building a road or which roads need to be expanded, or how you need to manage your water works. Digital twins provide that ability to prepare for a project and to manage as you go. To do that, organisations need to assess and understand they ways their current processes capture and use data. They need to ensure that data is high quality and has been captured and processed with ethical, privacy and security considerations in mind’ he says.

We can’t really wait for more incidents like Grenfell before we start thinking about the golden thread of information

Cristina Savian
MSc MBA MIET, CEO and Founder, BE-WISE

Best practice examples

The manufacturing sector have been using data to optimise their processes for decades, highlights Peter El Hajj. They have mature systems of information management, software management, ontologies and means to describe the physical world in a sophisticated model as well. The Digital Twin hub[hyperlink:] is a global community of people sharing information, updates, experience and initiatives with digital twins. CReDo is a climate resilience demonstrator project for connected system-of-system digital twins. It is a partnership between Anglian Water, British Telecoms and the UK power network, and provides a fascinating example of data sharing, benefits assessment, security considerations and data modelling.

For those wishing to embark on a journey, there exists an inexpensive route and entry point in the form a collaborative workshop, advises Bola Abisogun. ‘The Digital Twin collaborative workshop tool is one of the most exciting developments I can think of to lead us into a new era of combining the physical and digital worlds to make all this happen. The collaborative workshop fills a much-needed space for organisations to align the concept and their ambition for a digital twin with a wider context and strategy by getting the required cross-organisational representation and senior team on board.’

Glodon has various examples, advises Pierpaolo Franco. There’s an interesting case of a digital twin island, and parts of cities such as Hainan, where a residential area of the city is being develop as a ‘sponge’ city.

There are some great national initiatives going on around the world, explains Cristina Savian. In Australia, the government is mandating digital twins. Over 35 million AUD is being spent in Victoria on a digital twin for the state. New tenders in Australia are requiring digital twins, from new metro trains to utilities. The other example is in the middle east, in Dubai. It has been recently developing a city-wide Digital Twin, which has also won recent awards.

The future of built assets: Digital twins from design to handover of constructed assets AM session

Digital twins are expected to develop as an insightful tool that can be used in all life cycle phases from pre-project to end-of-life. The potential applications of digital twins are far-reaching but thus far under-explored in the design, construction, and handover phases. While real-time, structured data has never been so abundant and easily accessible over an asset's lifecycle, this potential does not come without blockers, risks, and disruptions. This webinar examines digital twins' current state and future potential across the asset lifecycle.