Role of Digital Twin in Sustainable Construction

Author: Nishanth PK
July 5, 2023
Role of Digital Twin in Sustainable Construction

We are living in a time where technology and sustainability are not just intersecting but are becoming deeply intertwined, creating a new paradigm in industries across the globe. 

The construction industry, once synonymous with physical labor and tangible materials, is now being reshaped by the invisible yet powerful forces of digital innovation.

In the heart of this digital revolution, a concept is emerging that is as exciting as it is transformative - the concept of Digital Twins.

Picture this: a virtual, dynamic replica of a building or infrastructure, mirroring every aspect of its physical counterpart. This isn't a glimpse into a distant future but a reality that's unfolding right here, right now. Digital Twins are not just a concept but a revolution, changing the way we design, build, and maintain our built environment.

So, what does this mean for us, the architects, engineers, builders, and inhabitants of these structures? It signifies a shift towards construction projects that are more efficient, less wasteful, and more in tune with our environmental needs. 

It heralds a future where we can predict and solve problems before they occur, saving not just time and money but also precious resources. It promises a world where our buildings are not just static structures but dynamic entities that we can interact with, understand, and improve in real time.

In this blog, let's delve into the world of Digital Twins together. Let's explore how this digital revolution isn't just about changing the way we build but about building a better, more sustainable future for all of us. 

Remember, every digital step we take today is a step towards a more efficient and sustainable tomorrow. 

So, buckle up and get ready to step into the future of construction. Welcome to the age of Digital Twins.

Digital Twin in Construction

Digital twins are a revolutionary technology that has the potential to transform the construction industry. They are essentially virtual replicas of physical entities created using real-time data. In the context of construction, these entities can range from a single piece of equipment to an entire building or infrastructure project.

The primary purpose of a Digital Twin is to serve as a dynamic, real-time simulation of its physical counterpart. This allows stakeholders to visualize, monitor, and analyze the performance of the object or system in a safe and controlled virtual environment. For instance, a Digital Twin of a building can provide insights into its structural integrity, energy consumption, and even the comfort levels of its occupants.

The benefits of using Digital Twins in construction are manifold. They can help in improving design accuracy, optimizing resource allocation, enhancing operational efficiency, and reducing downtime. By providing a comprehensive view of the project, Digital Twins enable stakeholders to make informed decisions, identify potential issues before they occur, and make necessary adjustments without the cost and time associated with physical alterations.

Case Study: Predictive Maintenance System to Prevent Malfunctioning Machines

Key Benefits of Digital Twins in The Construction Industry

The benefits of using Digital Twins in construction are manifold. They can help in improving design accuracy, predicting potential issues, optimizing operations, and reducing costs. 

By creating a virtual model of a building, engineers can test different scenarios, identify problems before they occur, and make necessary adjustments without the cost and time associated with physical alterations. 

When we delve into it deeper, there are benefits like:

1. Improving Design Accuracy: Digital Twins allow for precise modeling of a construction project, enabling engineers to refine and optimize designs before actual construction begins.

2. Predicting Potential Issues: By simulating different scenarios on the Digital Twin, potential problems can be identified and addressed in advance, reducing the risk of costly mistakes during the actual construction process.

3. Optimizing Operations: Digital Twins can be used to simulate and analyze the operational aspects of a building, such as energy efficiency, maintenance requirements, and space utilization, leading to optimized building operations.

4. Reducing Costs: By identifying design flaws or operational inefficiencies early in the process, Digital Twins can help to avoid costly changes or repairs once the building is constructed. This can lead to significant cost savings over the life of the project.

5. Enhancing Collaboration: Digital Twins can be accessed and interacted with by all stakeholders, promoting better communication and collaboration. This can lead to more efficient decision-making and project execution.

6. Facilitating Maintenance and Upgrades: Post-construction, the Digital Twin can serve as a comprehensive reference for maintenance activities and future upgrades, ensuring that these are carried out efficiently and effectively.

Sustainability in Construction

Sustainability in construction refers to the practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building's life-cycle: from planning to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and demolition.

The goal of sustainable construction is to reduce the environmental impact of building projects. This involves 

  • Use of eco-friendly materials

  • Energy-efficient designs

  • waste reduction strategies.

For instance, using recycled materials in construction, designing buildings to maximize natural light, or implementing water-saving plumbing systems are all examples of sustainable construction practices.

Challenges you might face

However, achieving sustainability in construction is not without its challenges. It requires careful planning, innovative design, and efficient execution. 

The construction industry is traditionally slow to adopt new technologies and practices, and there can be a lack of knowledge and skills in sustainable construction methods. 

Additionally, sustainable materials and technologies can sometimes be more expensive upfront, although they often result in cost savings in the long term.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, the construction industry accounts for 38% of global energy-related CO2 emissions. 

This highlights the urgent need for more sustainable practices in the sector. Sustainable construction is not just about environmental responsibility but also about economic performance and social equity. It is about building for the future in a way that is beneficial to all.

Role of Digital Twin in Sustainable Construction

To define sustainable construction as a construction method with little to no environmental impact, six factors must be addressed:

  • During and after construction, conserve water, fuel, electricity, and other resources.

  • Scaffolding and formwork made of wood and metal can be reused.

  • Whenever possible, use recycled and alternative materials in construction.

  • Plant as much flora and fauna as possible on the construction site, including relocating full-grown trees.

  • Chemicals that are toxic should be avoided.

  • Follow best practices and use only high-quality materials.

But how can you mix digital twins and sustainability for an optimum output? Well, you can start with the following ways:

Reduce waste by estimating material costs

As a general rule, green buildings are structures with energy-saving features. However, the concept also includes the construction process, which contributes to half of the building's carbon footprint. The construction company must use as little waste as possible when building the green building. It is difficult to devise an effective system if you only have data from previous projects, which may not include recent innovations and regulatory changes.

Digital twins can feed real-time data into BIM via sensor-equipped vehicles and facilities, providing insight into material use, including:

  • The part of the construction operation that produces the most waste

  • Wasted or misused materials

  • Depletion of supplies caused by vehicles or machines

  • Excessive construction waste practices

You might not find this useful in the first few projects where you've just begun using digital twins. However, the resulting analyses and insights of the collected data can help you formulate construction operation and management guidelines that can improve your material cost estimate, resource conservation, and waste management significantly.

Simplify data management and storage

In the construction of a net zero building, every aspect is handled by a different team of professionals, following different rules and practices, which sometimes creates a gap between teams.

The only way to bridge the gap is to find tools that help streamline the process, such as asking permission from specific personnel to obtain information or documents from each other. A digital twin-integrated BIM system, supported by project management software like PlanRadar, streamlines the process by providing a single platform where stakeholders can communicate, voice concerns, and resolve issues.

Enhance risk assessment

Essentially, digital twins focus on how people interact with buildings while they are being constructed or occupied. Their data are, therefore, more accurate than those collected and analyzed from studies, surveys, and statistics, which have different respondents and settings. 

Furthermore, these data aren't just based on logic or professional opinions. Instead, they come from actual incidents and responses at the building or construction site.

In other words, whatever the system comes up with is as close to the truth as possible. You can rely on them for safety guidelines. 

For instance, you can determine which area at the site has a high probability of causing accidents. In order to prevent those accidents, you can implement specific procedures. By protecting your personnel and assets, you can complete the project quickly and save money.

Alerts and reports in real-time 

With digital twin technology, you can get real-time alerts and reports about an incident detected by your sensors, unlike before when you could only find out about a particular situation after several hours. In this way, you can respond quickly and prevent wasteful damage to assets, occupants, and resources.

To eliminate human intervention, which is often flawed, you can even automate responses. For instance, you can program the system to shut off electricity in the building's least used areas. In case of an accident, such as a fire or leak due to a broken valve, the system can alert concerned personnel or automatically shut off connecting pipelines.

Manage assets and waste in real-time

You can also program your digital twins to monitor areas at the construction site where waste is collected and segregated to determine how much waste is disposed of and recycled. If you want to know if you're using your supplies efficiently, you can set a realistic volume limit based on cost estimates.

Using the data from the digital twins, you can develop a predictive maintenance program based on the frequency of activity in the equipment servicing area. With your equipment in perfect working order, you will be able to prevent power consumption, poor emissions, and costly breakdowns.

Also, read the top 15 digital twin use cases and understand how it is revolutionizing businesses. 

Examples of Digital Twins in Sustainable Construction

Digital Twins are already being used in sustainable construction projects around the world. Here are two notable examples:

The Edge Building, Amsterdam: Known as the "greenest building in the world", the Edge in Amsterdam is a prime example of the use of Digital Twins in sustainable construction. The building's Digital Twin allows for real-time monitoring and optimization of energy use. The building is equipped with a vast network of sensors that monitor everything from temperature and humidity to occupancy. 

This data is fed into the Digital Twin, which uses it to optimize the building's energy use in real-time. As a result, the Edge produces more energy than it consumes, making it a net-positive building. In fact, it has achieved a BREEAM rating of 98.36%, the highest ever awarded.

Morpheus Hotel, Macau: The Morpheus Hotel in Macau is another example of the use of Digital Twins in sustainable construction. The hotel's unique exoskeleton design was optimized using a Digital Twin, resulting in significant material savings. 

The Digital Twin allowed the engineers to test different design scenarios and identify the most efficient solution. As a result, they were able to reduce the amount of steel used in the construction by 13,000 tons, equivalent to a reduction of 34,000 tons of CO2 emissions2.

These examples demonstrate the potential of Digital Twins in promoting sustainability in construction. By enabling more efficient and less wasteful construction processes, they can help in creating a more sustainable built environment for future generations.

Read more Digital Twin examples

The Future of Digital Twin and Sustainable Construction

The future of sustainable construction lies in the integration of Digital Twins with other emerging technologies such as AI, IoT, and blockchain. These technologies can enhance the capabilities of Digital Twins, enabling more accurate simulations, real-time monitoring, and automated optimization.

Suggested Read: How to Choose Your Digital Twin Development Company

In conclusion,

Digital Twins have the potential to revolutionize the construction industry and play a crucial role in promoting sustainability. By creating virtual replicas of buildings and infrastructure, stakeholders can visualize, monitor, and optimize their performance in real-time. This enables more accurate design, prediction of potential issues, optimization of operations, and reduction of costs.

Digital Twins can help in reducing waste, conserving resources, and improving material cost estimates. They streamline data management and enhance risk assessment, leading to safer construction practices. 

Real-time alerts and reports enable quick responses to incidents, preventing wasteful damage. Additionally, Digital Twins facilitate the management of assets and waste, optimizing energy consumption and reducing emissions.

Looking ahead, Digital Twins will play a crucial role in building a better, more sustainable future for the construction industry and the planet as a whole.

Construction companies can rely on tech partners like Toobler in creating, implementing, and managing digital twins. Connect with the experts and resolve any doubts you have about digital twins.