GLOBAL construction is scanning a bold new horizon. As a digital approach to designing, building and maintaining our assets takes hold and built-environment professionals seek to drive more value from the vast volume of data now available to them, a new solution for the sector’s famous productivity problem has emerged – the Digital Twin.
What is a digital twin?
Industries including manufacturing and aerospace have long benefited from digital twins. Pioneers included NASA, which developed a complex simulation of the Apollo 13 mission and used it to troubleshoot problems with a physical asset 200,000 miles away (with three astronauts inside it).
In the built environment, the digital twin is presenting owner operators and governments with an opportunity to use data and technology to help resolve social and urban challenges and become more open, transparent and collaborative.
Though definitions vary, a twin is explained simply as a virtual representation of a physical environment that brings in data from a variety of sources. The key distinguishing feature of these ‘mirror systems’ from traditional 3D models is that they are connected with the physical original. A twin can provide insights beyond those that are currently seen with existing infrastructure models and can be used as a tool to aid decision making.
Antidote to data chaos
The advent in construction of the digital twin is in part the result of technological developments and the arrival of the internet-of-things (IoT). Advances in capturing techniques and networked sensors, as well as a reduction in costs has made available an abundance of data about our built environment.
Huge volumes of data are though, in themselves, of little use: The data needs to be amalgamated and connected in a way that unlocks insights and intelligence, which can be acted on and which can drive positive outcomes – whether through cutting costs, reducing waste or increasing safety.
Affordability of infrastructure development and management has also been key to the uptake of the twin in the construction and infrastructure sectors. Our governments recognise the need to consider significant changes to the way infrastructure is planned, delivered and operated, to optimise capital investment, reduce whole life costs and ensure the right service delivery and social outcomes are achieved.
Drowning in data
Our experience at PCSG tells us that, faced with an often bewildering array of data about their asset or project, frequently held in an array of different systems and in varying formats, many asset owners stall at the first hurdle. Their immediate questions are: “Where do I start?” “How do I get control of this data?” “How do I gain value from it?” This is where the ‘digital double’ concept comes into play.
The development – ‘building’ – of a digital clone requires graft with strict data quality gateways in place, integration flows established and clear information creation and exchange processes implemented to ensure consistency and an organised approach. But the ‘pain’ of this initial work proves well worth it when the end-result is data in a meaningful, engaging format, which is reliable, easy to access, quick to surface and has real value to the asset owner /manager.
Fully exploited in this way data supports business decisions or activities not just for short-term decision-making but across the whole lifetime of an asset or portfolio of assets.
HS2 – Leading the way
It is exactly this challenge that PCSG is currently responding to for HS2 Ltd. With a vast volume of project and asset data to procure and manage, the rail organisation went to market to source suppliers who could effectively pull it together so as to optimise its operations.
Using our cloud-based platform, GeoConnect+, we are supporting the rail group to integrate its existing and future data, including all data types currently held in the Common Data Environment (CDE), project and asset information, via a series of Application Programming Interfaces (API). Made easy to access (for those who need it), quick to surface and engaging – the solution uses gaming technology – it gets users to data that matters far more quickly than before.
At our Digital Twin Week webinar, on October 23, Dr Sonia Zahiroddiny, Head of Digital Engineering at HS2, will join us to share insights from the work undertaken to date.
In a recent interview, Sonia explained: “We will be creating and need to manage large amounts of data. It is vital that the project’s data is of a high quality, plus it needs to be accessible and can be visualised in the wider context of the programme to support better decision making.”
The vision, she said, was to: “..go beyond the government’s mandate to transform the way the industry has traditionally designed and constructed infrastructure projects.”
“By doing so, we are following the example of manufacturing, aerospace and other advanced sectors that have used the latest trends in technology to revolutionise their ways of working.”
The data integration and visualisation platform being developed, she said, “is the start of creating HS2’s Digital Twin. It brings together GIS, CAD models, asset, safety and project controls data into one viewing platform. This provides multiple views of the railway as it is planned and designed. This makes it easier and quicker to access, discover and analyse data on which we make key design and assurance decisions.”
At the Digital Twin Week session, on Thursday 22 October, we’ll also hear from Marc Rozsa, Smart Motorways PMO Director at Highways England. He’ll explain how HE’s Smart Motorway’s project is connecting, integrating and visualising data to support better decision making.
Deft with data
Today data is ubiquitous. But those asset owners /operators and FM teams which will benefit from this are not those intent on volume – the quantity of data – but on the quality of it and the insights they are able to draw from it.
To join our Digital Twin Week webinar, register here: https://www.digitaltwinweek.com/program
For more details on our work supporting asset owners to develop a data-driven, digital approach to the management and maintenance of their estates, please contact Gavin.Cotterill@pcsg-australia.com.au in Melbourne and, in London, Olly.Thomas@pcsg.co.uk.