Digital Twins: A high benchmark



Dr Anas Bataw
Dr. Anas Bataw, director of the Centre of Excellence in Smart Construction (CESC) at Heriot-Watt University in Dubai discusses the importance of digital twins

What is a digital twin and how does it complement the modern construction industry?

It is widely acknowledged that construction has historically been a labour and time intensive process as well as being highly linear. In recent times digitalization has been seen as an essential approach to ensure construction companies stay competitive, grow revenue and provide a safer and more sustainable environment; even more so in a post-pandemic world.

A digital twin, which is an exact, digital replica of a physical entity, can aid and complement the digitalization of the construction process by accelerating and automating traditional design, production and operational processes.

The use of the digital twin method will ultimately drive growth in the modern construction sector by creating newer, faster and more sustainable products and services.

What research is CESC/EGIS doing that is advancing the study of digital twins and their application in the regional construction industry?

One of the core objectives of CESC is enabling technologies. We work towards creating awareness through ongoing research and collaboration with both industry partners and government to encourage embracing the latest technologies and how they can help the construction industry, including the use of digital twin.

Our Heriot-Watt Built Environment courses and research focus on all aspects of digital and smart technology including the use of digital twin and artificial intelligence (AI). We are fully committed to ensuring the next generation of construction professionals is skilled to understand smart technology and is able to identify key challenges and how best to improve and implement digital change in the industry.

How can the predictive capabilities of digital twins help the construction industry achieve their sustainability and efficiency aims?

Sustainability is a key area for improvement within the Built Environment and the digital transformation of the sector is undoubtedly set to improve this issue. Using digital twin technology, the practicality and sustainability of a building project can be tested in a simulated environment and provide accurate data which can be improved on if necessary, before building commences in real time. The use of digital twin technology can also help with expenditure before a project starts. Buildings and construction together account for *36% of global energy use and *39% of energy-related carbon dioxide (Source: 2017 World Green Council) so data-driven energy management can have a positive impact on both the environment and the bottom line.

How can real world technology (smartphones, drones, laser scanners, etc) be utlilised with digital twins to improve performance and efficiencies on site?

Real world technology is becoming increasingly utilised with digital twin and it is becoming easier to transfer data as technology becomes more sophisticated. For example, the use of the cheapest smartphone camera now has high enough resolution to capture shapes of beams and walls, data which can be transferred to a digital twin and therefore boosting productivity and efficiency on site.

How can IoT and AI be combined with digital twins to unlock its true potential and power?

Digital Twin and its modern concept have potentially been limited over the last few years, however, the advances in technology driven by AI and IoT will drive the current key areas where digital twin technology is successfully being used with even greater effects and outcomes. Combining digital twin technology with AI and in-depth analytics will lead to even better efficiency, an improvement in health, safety and wellbeing and a higher level of sustainability.

What are the future implications of digital twin technology? Where can it lead the industry?

The construction industry is facing one of its most challenging times ahead post-pandemic and it is time to embrace and address key issues around project management and performance, budget restraints, sustainability, potential labour shortages and Health & Safety concerns.

Embracing emerging digital twin technology is essential to ensure these issues are addressed quickly and efficiently.

Digital technology and the IoT in the construction industry are set to grow. It's critical that the Built Environment understands and fully embraces digital twin technology and its positive impact on the industry.