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Digital twins promise to be one of the key forces of innovation in the construction industry. This technology creates a digital representation of real-world systems and components and is important for an industry seen as slow to adopt digital technology relative to others.

“There are more than 4 billion buildings in the world today, which is twice as many as websites are online,” said RJ Pittman, CEO of Matterport, a reality capture service for buildings. The rush is on, not only to build more efficiently but also to increase the value of existing buildings, which today represent a $230 trillion asset class.

Construction-related spending accounts for about 14% of the world GDP and is expected to grow from $10 trillion in 2017 to $14 trillion in 2025, according to McKinsey. The consulting firm also says that about $1.6 trillion in additional value could be created through higher productivity. McKinsey identified seven best practices that could use digital twins to boost productivity by 50 to 60%:

  1. Reshape regulation – accelerate approvals with testable plans and enable the adoption of performance-based requirements.
  2. Rewire contracts – improved information sharing enables new contractual models.
  3. Rethink design – new designs could be tested and iterated more efficiently.
  4. Improve onsite execution – easier detection of scheduling clashes.
  5. Infuse technology and innovation – improved orchestration with IoT, drones, and AI planning.
  6. Reskill workers – facilitate new training programs for innovative technologies using VR.
  7. Improve procurement and supply chain – better harmonization between current progress and deliveries.

“Digital twins are about connecting to real-life objects or information,” said Connor Christian, senior product manager at Procore, a construction software provider. That is a key issue in an area that combines so many different engineering facets.

At the same time, the construction industry has evolved a somewhat fragmental approach to managing different data sources, including GIS for location data, building information modeling (BIM) for 3D data, and virtual design and construction (VDC) for project management. This challenges digital twin implementation.

The industry’s attempts at transformation are complicated, and a lot of subsidiary elements need to successfully evolve in order for digital twins to gain traction. For one thing, the industry needs better data quality and context. The data comes from many different sources in different formats, which can be challenging for analysis. In addition, the industry will also have to find consensus on what defines digital twins and how they plug into existing processes. “There is still a general lack of understanding of what a digital twin is,” said Procore’s Christian. Right now, any virtual object associated with data is being called a digital twin, he suggested.

While any job site with sensors or cameras has the potential to create digital twins that allow for access, control, and reporting from those devices, the fact is that not all data is good data, so there must be standards, processes, and verifications in place to help filter out unnecessary data, Christian said.

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