A digital twin is an exact virtual representation of any IoT-enabled device, system or process. With vast application across industry, this innovative technology uses real-time virtual models to remotely monitor and control assets, to analyse their performance and to support process, product and service optimisation.
Here, we uncover some of the benefits and possible applications of digital twin technology in construction, resources and other industrial sectors.
Like other simulation technologies, digital twin technology streams and analyses data from smart sensors to understand what has and is currently happening in any paired physical environment. What makes a digital twin quite different from other technologies is the use of artificial intelligence, machine learning and other advanced analytical technologies to interpret live data and predict the future performance of these assets.
Effective project communication and collaboration can be difficult to achieve. Particularly in industries like mining, construction and manufacturing with diverse stakeholders and external influences, and many varied, dynamic and often simultaneous systems and processes in place.
Digital twin technology has the ability to bring together all of the physical and virtual assets, systems and processes required to manage complex operations and deliver major projects, into a single digital sphere. In doing so, this technology gives project teams real-time visibility to entire operations and creates a single virtual environment to inform decision-making and support collaboration.
Another challenge many industries face is the pressure to deliver more, to deliver it faster and to use fewer resources. Digital twin technology supports the real-time monitoring of systems, processes, performance and materials to highlight where optimisation is required, and how improvements can be made.
In production and manufacturing environments, digital twin technology can be used to analyse equipment data and to remotely monitor and fine-tune production systems and processes. This means:
Electronic system repairs can be performed remotely, reducing production downtime.
Intuitive process and equipment fault-finding can inform maintenance and highlight problems before they occur.
Insight can also be gathered to inform predictive maintenance schedules, and to optimise production processes and equipment.
In the construction industry, digital twin technology supercharges traditional building information modelling (BIM) techniques. While BIM focuses on digitally enabling design and construction, digital twin technology connects the physical design of a structure or object, with a virtual replica to help monitor, interpret and enhance any interaction with this design.
Digital twin technology also presents considerable opportunities for construction automation. When a digital twin is created for construction equipment, it allows the equipment to be remotely controlled and monitored. This technology could have made a real difference had it been more widely available for use during the many COVID-19 worksite shutdowns in 2020.
Safety and risk
Digital twin technology allows businesses to accelerate risk recognition and inform risk mitigation strategies by creating greater visibility and transparency around all aspects of construction project delivery and industrial operations. Given the high-risk nature of work environments in mining, construction and other industrial sectors, this technology offers immense value to businesses in more safely and efficiently managing complex work sites.
The use of digital twin technology for safety inspections reduces the need to visit sites, and plays an important role in reducing risk and improving site safety.
For major construction projects, digital twin technology allows construction teams to build complete digital project replicas before physical construction work begins. This approach highlights any design and safety issues before construction teams break ground.
In the resources sector, having access to a live 3D virtual representation of a mine site gives project teams better site visibility, speeds-up decision-making and informs smarter design, procurement, operational and maintenance strategies. It also offers remote project teams greater assurances around site safety and compliance.
Digital twin technology also presents some interesting opportunities for simulated safety training. Participants can safely and remotely evaluate work site hazards, by controlling and receiving real time feedback, from real equipment on real construction sites.
There are endless opportunities for digital twin technology to help the construction, mining and industrial sectors work smarter, faster and more efficiently. However, if this technology still seems overly complicated or the opportunities too vast to relate to, IBM does a great job of explaining digital twin technology simply.
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