The concept of the digital twin is gaining traction in commercial, industrial, and residential real estate. It’s creating new efficiencies and promising long-term cost savings. But to take full advantage of the power of the technology, stakeholders in real estate projects have to take a holistic approach.
A digital twin can be defined as an up-to-date and dynamic model of a real-world physical asset. That asset can be anything from a toaster to an industrial oven to a windmill to a building.
A real estate digital twin contains all of a building project’s structured information, like CAD data, plus unstructured information, like operating manuals, that can be operationally shared among team members. Digital twins help builders, engineers, and property managers model, simulate, understand, predict and optimize all aspects of a facility.
Without the digital twin, most optimization in facilities tends to be reactive, based on after-the-fact alarms rather than on predictive insights. Using a digital twin, real estate professionals can deploy IoT sensors to monitor an asset or a facility in real time from other locations. Taking that data and feeding it into modeling and simulations, they can predict and proactively respond to anomalies before they affect operations.
Hurdles to cross
But there are a number of potential challenges to using a digital twin.
Assets and facilities are usually designed using multiple CAD formats that aren’t harmonized in a holistic model. Trying to view a digital twin across multiple formats can create a jumble of inconsistent images, often with broken geometry and scattershot designs.
Second, models aren’t always kept up to date because contractors and suppliers aren’t incentivized to do so. With deadlines coming fast and furious and expenses under a microscope, they build models and move on to new sections of a project.
Third, as building systems become more complicated, models usually grow in size and complexity, making them difficult to share. Technologies have advanced to push large, unwieldy files from place to place, but file transfers still cause headaches.
Fourth, as designs, operating manuals, and sensor inputs change, models aren’t always kept current, creating critical differences between the digital twin and the physical asset. Consistency is critical; without it, the digital twin evolves into little more than a representation of a much more complex real estate asset.
Finally, many stakeholders want access to the digital twin. But they all have different needs. For example, procurement professionals don’t need to make design changes, but they do need to visualize items to be procured.
Empowering the digital twin
Technologies and processes can not only address these issues on a one-off basis but also support a holistic view of the digital twin.
A good start is to connect owners and operators with equipment suppliers. Setting up a dedicated network between them ensures that all information on the equipment being used is in one place and constantly being shared. Operators stay current on maintenance strategies and manuals from manufacturers. Equipment makers also automatically receive updates on asset usage and failure data, creating a feedback loop between the parties.
Harmonizing CAD formats with a broad-based enterprise tool removes the cumbersome task of doing one-off refactoring of incompatible design and construction formats. It also ensures better information sharing between the asset and the digital twin. 3D models contain rich stores of data such as material information, styling, annotations, and manufacturing process data that are valuable across the entire lifecycle of a real estate asset. Loss of key data points along the way robs the digital twin of much of its ongoing effectiveness.
Connecting to other enterprise applications can solve additional problems. End-to-end content management facilitates document sharing. And highly integrated management of IoT sensors tracks changes of inputs across the life of the asset, ensuring consistency of data.
Reaping the benefits
Builders, engineers, and property managers that take a holistic approach to the digital twin can use the technology for a wide range of applications.
One is automated progress monitoring. Checking progress against as-planned construction is often a subjective process. The percentage of work accomplished tends to be faster in the beginning of a project, and people are often initially more optimistic about the time needed to finish. Setting up an automated means of data collection and feeding results into the digital twin takes away a significant amount of human error in the construction progress measurement process.
Another is resource planning and logistics. Digital twin technology can automatically monitor resource allocations and waste. This gives companies the ability to dynamically predict needs and adjust on the fly, avoiding over-allocation and improving overall time management.
Digital twins can keep track of who’s working where. This can be useful in countries that impose strict regulations on workers’ presences on a construction site. A digital twin model could create an adaptable digital record of everybody assigned to a job. It can be tied into an automated entry and exit registration system, with information processed by an advanced analytics system.
Then there are ongoing quality assessments. Image-processing algorithms make it possible to check the condition of concrete, for example, through a photo or video image. Managers offsite can check for cracks or other displacements and project the potential severity of the anomaly over time. Spotting a problem early can trigger quick onsite inspections and avoid problems later.
Commercial real estate firms have long used technology to streamline processes and improve overall efficiencies. Today, they have a unique window of opportunity to differentiate themselves further within their own market. Firms that invest in digital twins – and take an overall holistic approach – will be better positioned to turn data into actionable insights, identifying unmet needs, transforming the customer experience, and realizing significant cost savings.
Learn about SAP digital twin software and technology – and see how companies are using it to optimize, innovate, and deliver new services.