Over the past decade, Building Information Modeling (BIM) has been widely adopted and become integrated to varying degrees into every aspect of the design, construction, and maintenance of buildings. But this isn’t where BIM stops, the future of BIM incorporates altered/virtual reality (AR/VR) and has the potential to go as far as automated and intelligent lifecycle management of assets. The concept of creating a “digital twin” to a physical building or system with the aim of making that real-world entity safer, more efficient, and more resilient begins by making our way towards fully-integrated BIM.
BIM is essentially a digital form of construction and asset management, improving decision-making throughout a building’s life cycle by putting everyone on the same page. For architects and designers, BIM helps with visualization, improved coordination, and even clash detection during design and planning phases. While the building is under construction, it can be used by contractors and manufacturers for sequencing, specifications, and supply chain efficiencies.
Having then received the building at a lower cost and with greater speed and efficiency by nature of the BIM coordination, clients and owners also benefit from the amount of facilities maintenance information provided by BIM. The operation and maintenance of a building can account for up to 85% of its lifetime costs, so the quality of the information generated during the design and construction phases to support greater operational efficiency is a primary driver for many clients.
The Industry BIM Task Group developed a matrix for determining “BIM maturity” to describe the varying levels of BIM integration. Level 0 means essentially no collaboration, with only 2D CAD drawings utilized; much of the industry today is well ahead of this level. Level 1 includes a mixture of 2D and 3D CAD information and electronic sharing of data. Collaborative working and a coordinated information exchange differentiate Level 2, while Level 3 BIM describes a fully open process and data integration with a single integrated model used by the entire design team. However, any BIM asset is only as good as its input information, meaning accuracy in the digital components is crucial.
Often considered a critical element to full BIM integration and the creation of a Digital Built Environment (DBE) is the “digital twin.” A digital representation of a physical counterpart, users interact with the digital twin through applied intelligence. The level of development of a digital twin can be evaluated through four metrics: fidelity, learning, intelligence, and autonomy, in that order. Fidelity is the most fundamental and refers to the level of detail and/or accuracy of a system, learning builds on that information to mean the twin can automatically improve performance by learning from data without being programmed specifically to do so. Intelligence is the next step, measured here as the digital twin’s ability to replicate human cognitive processes and complete tasks, and finally autonomy is the ability of the system to act without human input.
To test the potential and possibilities of a digital twin, Kingspan created IKON, a “building of the future.” Intended to function as a living research lab for Kingspan, IKON’s digital twin includes its physical representation, its virtual representation, and interconnected building sensors. IKON contains fifteen building sensor housings, each one with sensors for sound, light, motion, pressure, and CO2. The data from the sensors is sent to Autodesk Dasher 360, a browser-based application that can then be used to visualize and analyze the building performance data it receives in real time.
As mentioned previously in the context of evaluation, the most basic component involved in the creation of a digital twin is an accurate digital representation. Yet, anyone who’s tried to include accurate product families in Revit, for example, knows that may be a bigger task than it initially sounds. However, with BIM configurators such as the Morin Digital Delivery Design Tool, you can download products exactly as specified and in the file format you need. You can even view samples in AR/VR to quickly aid in design decisions.
Over thirty Integrated Wall Panels are the first wave to be loaded into the Morin tool, with available configurations including exact profile, gauge, color, and metal to ensure your model is accurate. There are tens of thousands of design combinations available already, and every type of wall panel can be joined with another for ease of modeling. Instead of searching through a “library” of preset options, this type of delivery system allows users to quickly specify and download the exact configuration needed.
The files are free to download and available in over 100 formats; the app will also save your file preferences once you’ve registered. AR/VR modes and a mobile app allow for design on the go and easy presentation to clients. Users can also download a 3D pdf file to share with those who don’t have CAD access or to use for submittals. Seemingly small steps like BIM configurators are necessary to set the foundation for future greater integration and will have a significant overall impact in BIM’s continued evolution.