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How do digital twins help us build smarter?

Using virtual doppelgängers to construct energy-intelligent buildings

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Today’s modern production facilities don’t simply exist in the physical world. Almost every process, from product design, to production line automation, even the maintenance and operation of manufacturing facilities has seen a dramatic push into the world of digitization. But perhaps no other technology better exemplifies this shift than one of manufacturing’s most exciting tools – the Digital Twin.

As the name implies, Digital Twins are complex computer renderings of real life objects, that use advanced simulations and physics based programming to help design, test and calibrate a product in the virtual world before being manufactured in the real world.

Although the concept of a Digital Twin has been around since the early 2000s, recent advancements in mobility, sensorization and AI analytics has brought new attention to this technology, establishing it as one of the most significant technological trends in modern manufacturing.

Digital Twins represent a convergence between the physical and the virtual world of manufacturing, where every industrial product will be paired with a dynamic digital representation. Not only does this allow products to be designed, tested, and manufactured faster than in the past, but also to be analyzed throughout their lifecycle. This allows manufacturers to predict problems with their products in advance, and develop new opportunities to plan for better products in the future.

But digital twins don’t just cover products, they can also bring significant benefit for the full lifecycle of entire buildings. In addition to visualizing all the geometric data of every element of a building, these models can run simulations of a building’s energy supply, lighting and airflow, as well as adjust these components based on variables such as a building’s overall occupancy and hours of operation. This allows developers to optimize a building’s future climatic impact, long before construction has even begun.

“This is where the digital twin really comes into play”, says Dave Hopping, CEO of Smart Infrastructure Regional Solutions and Services at Siemens, “because you’re really merging the physical world with the digital world and we’re able to simulate how the building is going to be constructed, but also operate before the first brick is laid or before the first concrete is poured.”

Applying these simulations across the various technologies and operations within a future building allows developers to not only see how to lower their cost of construction, but also how to manage their building running costs in the long term. What’s more, by continuing to apply this technology throughout a building’s lifetime, developers can gather information about ongoing physical stresses, components that have failed, or how their building is being used.

This information not only allows them to optimize operations while in use, but also aids designers, architects, and engineers in preparing their next building development.

As Dave Hopping explains, “80% of the costs of a building is actually running the building. It’s not constructing the building. So, if you can spend more time upfront implementing a digital twin and simulating how it’s going to operate, you can really reduce the total life cycle cost of a building.”

“We’re getting involved much earlier with the building owner, helping lay out different technologies during the planning stage. Building on our strong expertise in hardware, we’re now combining this with digital solutions for the good of the environment, the good of our customers, and to improve the value to our customers’ operations.”