Digital twin technology could transform safety and productivity in the construction industry according to an expert from the University of New South Wales (UNSW).
A digital twin is a digital replica of a physical entity that uses the internet of things to enable two-way communications between them.
The virtual replicas are connected and housed in the cloud to collect data on a physical item’s performance in real time.
Samad Sepasgozar from UNSW Built Environment said at the strategic level, digital twin technology is a game-changing approach to construction automation that will transform the industry quicker than ever before.
“Industry players might confuse this with Building Information Modelling. But unlike this previous technology, the digital twin also enables users to control equipment,” he said. “So, it enables job-site tasks to be performed remotely, which is useful for working through disruptions like COVID-19.”
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Sepasgozar is currently developing a digital twin of an excavator, enabling improved diagnostics and analytics of the digging equipment’s performance.
“The digital twin and the physical excavator can communicate with each other, in real time. All the changes applied to one are applied to the other. For example, you can command the physical equipment and communicate with it [remotely]. On the other hand, the physical object will communicate with you so you can examine its performance, condition and productivity.”
“So you can learn through data how to increase the productivity by changing the operation scenarios, like the attachments of the equipment, the distance between [equipment] and the specific floor of the building, you can analyse all [this] in real time,” he said.
Digital twins can also be used to improve safety on site, as they can be used to teach workers how to evaluate hazards from afar and could even remove the need to be on-site at all.
“So, for example, if the operator is not experienced enough, you can use the digital twin from your office, and then you can command and operate the excavator [remotely],” Sepasgozar said.
“It’s an online app on smartphones, so it’s much easier to use than you think … in terms of visualisation, in terms of controlling or using it – it is much easier than any previous digital automation technologies,” he said.
Sepasgozar said that digital twins are a powerful tool for data visualisation and communication capable of showing the full picture of construction management with up-to-date datasets in a user-friendly format.
“Construction activities – whether it be a tunnelling project or light rail project – can have many impacts on neighbours, and [the] city from [an] emissions footprint [perspective], using the city resources, [affecting] safety and … disrupting the environment. This can be communicated accurately in real time with all citizens, construction companies and other stakeholders at the city level,” he said.
“Digital twins will also help to make the construction industry more equitable and accessible for smaller players by giving them a platform.
“Most previous technologies, like Building Information Modelling (BIM), is implemented by bigger guys in the industry. But [here] we are talking about smaller stakeholders, people on the ground level, family businesses, the subcontractors such as excavation contractors,” he said.
“Everyone can participate in the data generation, and of course, the sharing platform will be [richer], and that can be more useful to the construction companies and the community as a whole in terms of sharing data.”