Digital Twins – do we need another buzzword in digital engineering?

At FJA are focus is on what is a digital twin when mentioned in the civil engineering market, and how does this differ from our current options of 3d modelling or BIM.

The reason that we started to explore digital twins is that the term BIM (which is already confusing) has sought to be defined and simplified over the last decade and now we seem to have jumped on the confusion with replacing BIM with digital twins.

What is a Digital Twin and where did it come from?

This term has been around since 2002, but it has recently started popping up a lot more with regard to engineering projects and 3d modelling. So, what the hell is it?

The concept of Digital Twin was coined by Dr Michael Grieves and John Vickers at the University of Michigan in 2002:  

“…the idea that a digital informational construct about a physical system could be created as an entity on its own. This digital information would be a “twin” of the information that was embedded within the physical system itself and be linked with that physical system through the entire lifecycle of the system. “

I think the part of this quote that is lost on engineering versions of the digital twin is the physical link between the real world and the twin. The sensors to make this link simply do not exist (yet) in the physical locations.

If you read the engineering press, BIM is gone and now its digital twins:

“In the case of the architectural and construction sector, the digital twin arrives as an upgrade on its worthy predecessor, BIM”.

Article in E&T; Digital twins for construction: out with the old, in with the twin. https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2019/01/digital-twins-for-construction-out-with-the-old-in-with-the-twin/

Now I think that this is hype and unnecessary hype. BIM has finally bedded down and got some rules around it that people understand, so why would we want to do disrupt this? Build on it, sure, but it needs to be incremental updates around an already established system, if we are to avoid confusion.  

The reason I believe BIM is now finally being understood and made easy, is we now have an ISO accreditation for BIM. You can also go and get a kitemark for BIM. The terms LOD and 4D, 5D etc have been defined and explained. This all helps to standardize BIM. Now I understand that for some commercial purposes, that is not beneficial and therefore you will see people spruiking digital twins for your engineering projects.

I personally think there is a lot right with BIM and don’t see the need for a new Buzzword, but I am a simple engineer, and we don’t really do hyperbole.

The future of Digital Twins

Through my research of this topic, I begin to better understand the very real and very exciting elements to the digital twin.

So where do we see the value. We see the value in the testing real life infrastructure before building it, before spending billions of dollars.

For example, would we have built Lane Cove Tunnel if we could have dropped it into a digital twin of Sydney and then observed what the people did? Trouble is, you will need an insane amount of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning for this to work.

Would it be exciting to drop a London style congestion charging system into a digital twin of Sydney, Hell Yes.

We feel that the digital twin is a real thing, but it is not here to replace BIM and we all need to work to ensure it is kept simple and not used to confused people outside of the technical specializations.  

“If You Can’t Explain it to a Six Year Old, You Don’t Understand it Yourself” – Albert Einstein (maybe)

I wanted to write a lot more on this topic, but apparently this is already over optimum length… so until next time please leave any comments or feedback and I will try and come back with round two on this topic.