The need for unbiased and reliable data has become even more essential. It is driving better informed decision-making for commercial property management and investment decisions. To meet these needs, building owners are turning to digital twins to aggregate and visualize the data for their properties. Sensors, gateways and remote monitoring software provide data, which viewed through a virtual “twin”, is reducing costs of physical on-site monitoring. It is also increasing the ability to consume and analyze more and real-time data, which improves the speed and accuracy of decisions.
A digital twin is a 3D virtual replica of a building connected to massive amounts of real-time data flowing from sensors, meters and systems which track and analyzing metrics like air quality, temperature, elevators, occupancy and electricity usage. This data is then processed and analyzed using Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and other software to create living digital simulation models that update and change as their matching physical counterpart’s change. “The digital twin creates a platform that captures every piece of current and historical data across the entire building life cycle and generates a real-time, interactive model of the building,” says Walter Rafin, JLL’s Head of Solutions Development for Australasia and Pacific.
Elements of a Digital Twin
Digital twins allow building owners and operators to maintain their assets more efficiently, improve performance, predictably reduce system failures and save significant amounts of money through simulation and optimization. That is in addition to boosting the health and wellness of the building’s occupants. This technology may also be used to model traffic patterns of occupants to help map out potential changes to workplace designs and protocols which can be used to optimize their health and safety.
“With a vital need for building owners to consider how their properties are being managed, digital twins are providing data and visualizations to help monitor built spaces,” says Jim Whittaker, engineering services lead at JLL. “Objective and credible data has always been needed to make decisions on property portfolios and inform investment decisions. But, agile, scalable, and dynamic workplaces are needed now more than ever,” he added. Digital twins support these requirements by providing the data and visualizations needed to make more rapid and flexible decisions.
These capabilities also help maximize operational efficiencies and investment returns, which is why the commercial real estate market is focusing on this growing technology. The global digital twin market was valued at $3.1B worldwide in 2020, but is expected to grow rapidly at a pace of 58% or more per year. The market is expected to reach $48.2B by 2026, according to Markets and Markets.
Building technologies have evolved greatly over the past 20 years, from 2D and 3D CAD, to Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Smart buildings. With these technologies as a foundation and the growing prevalence of Virtual Reality (VR), the industry is poised to embrace digital twinning for both individual buildings as well as city planning and development.
BIM – The Foundation of a Digital Twin
Building Information Modeling (BIM) has become a standard, like to AutoCAD, used in the design of buildings. BIM is used in part to design the operational systems into a building. These plans serve as a key component in the construct of a digital twin model. Being able to visualize where the systems are in conjunction with other information enables problems to be identified and resolved more quickly, among other things.
Smart Buildings – the Engine of a Digital Twin
Smart Building technology is what produces much of the data for a digital twin. All of the systems and sensors used with a smart building provide near real-time information about a building’s operations 24/7. Some benefits of Smart Buildings include reduced energy consumption, improved building efficiency, predictive maintenance, increased productivity and better use of resources. However, the information is often generated from disparate systems within the building. Recent some companies have developed screens and charts that consolidate the information, but it is difficult to consume all of the data at once, particularly in a 2D form.
Layered Information of a Digital Twin
Benefits of a Digital Twin
A digital twin enables a company to better understand and operate a building. It is used to identify problems as well as predict what is likely to happen and provide ways to better manage things like system loads, traffic and other operational aspects of a property. This information can be used to improve both operational performance of an asset as well as provide tenants with a better, safer experience. Both of these things allowing the owner/manager to improve its performance in the marketplace. A digital twin continuously learns and updates itself from multiple sources to represent its near real-time status, working condition or position. As discussed above, until now data has been presented as a series of 2D floor plans, elevations and cross-sections of a building. However, statistically 75% of people cannot view a 2D illustration and fully understand the 3D space. For this reason, the use of Extended Reality (XR) techniques is critical to maximize the user’s true understanding of what’s happening within the building.
Extended Reality (XR) combines VR, AR and MR
A digital twin is an incredibly powerful, spatially-aware 3D data model, that allows for simulation of future plans and evaluation of potential “what if” scenarios. It also allows for real-time data in larger quantities to be consume more easily, which means users can identify, triage and address any operational problems that occur faster and more effectively. This digital simulation can be run across any number of different pillars - whether financial, business strategy or operational to name a few. Since everything is run within a virtual model, a digital twin allows for rapid ideation, prototyping and business case validation in a near risk-free environment. This encourages continual business innovation and ongoing feedback as an input into the existing business strategy and its continual update.
A digital twin integrates data from BIM and Smart Buildings. It can then process that data with AI, ML and other analytic tools to provide actionable intelligence about any aspect of the building as well as its systems, sensors and occupants. XR (in the form of VR, AR or MR) provides a naturally intuitive means to visualize and understand all of the subtle implications presented by the digital twin. These technologies provide key decision-makers with the information they need, along with intelligent recommendations, to optimize the building’s performance, lower maintenance and energy costs and troubleshoot ‘what-if’ scenarios. As a result, new business models and market offerings will emerge, and the way spaces are designed and built will be redefined. Buildings will become more intuitive, able to better accommodate human sensitivity and have the capacity to nurture the rich ecosystems they contain. It will no longer be sufficient to simply design, build and lease a space, but to make it think. Once digital twins reach a critical mass, then Smart Cities will become the norm, providing unlimited capabilities in terms of city and regional planning, efficiencies in infrastructure and optimized traffic patterns just to name a few… but that’s for a future discussion.
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