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Digital twin technology is changing the way buildings are designed. The information stored in the models created with this technology gives the designers and builders a better idea of what the buildings will look and perform like before the ground is broken.
Melanie Robinson is a senior digital consultant at the BIM Academy, founded in 2010 by Northumbria University and Ryder Architecture as a “centre of excellence for digital construction and transformation.”
Robinson works with businesses to help them understand the benefits of this technology and how to get the most out of it.
You get a much better idea of what a building will look like
“Some people really struggle to read 2D plan drawings. When you have a model environment, and you can take the client through — walk them through the virtual environment — they can understand a lot better what’s going on around them,” she says.
With a digital twin model, they can get a true sense of the scale of the rooms being created.
Detailed information is much easier to access
The construction industry has been using computer-aided design for a long time, says Robinson, who refers to this as “dumb geometry.” For example, you draw a square and call it a window.
“Even if you do the same in 3D, I’d still call it dumb geometry,” she says.
Intelligent geometry is where the design of your building holds a lot more information. For example, in a digital twin model, the windows contain all the data, like warranty information, installation date, and materials, she says.
When you interact with a digital twin model, all this information comes up, so it’s much easier to access, and the model becomes a single source of truth for the building, she says.
Why is it called a digital twin?
If you’re designing a building using this technology, you’re creating a “digital twin of a physical asset,” says Robinson. It allows you to do scenario testing and experiment with how things will work.
“We’re able to simulate things that could happen — a lot of it is around climate change and how our buildings need to be more resilient. We can use a digital twin to start testing that and see how a building might react to, say, a heat wave,” she says.
Buildings are more reliable when designed with this tech
The information contained within the building design when using digital twin is more accurate, so the physical building is more reliable when it’s built, says Robinson.
“You can run clash detection as you’re designing the building; you can run it against the architectural model, the structural model, the mechanical model and see where pipes hit walls or ducts, and we’re able to eliminate a lot of those things that in old times — when we were doing 2D drawings — we wouldn’t have picked up on,” she says.
They’re mandated to design this way in the UK
In the UK, this way of designing is mandated for public sector buildings. In Canada, they’re starting to use this tech more and more, says Robinson.
This technology is not brand new
Digital twin technology has been developing for 20 to 30 years, but in the last decade-and-a-half, a lot more tools are available to support this way of working, says Robinson.
“I’m positioned as a BIM consultant. I make sure everyone understands what they’re doing, how to use the tools and know how to coordinate and clash detect, and help the client understand what they’re getting at the end of it,” she says.
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