Automation, Controls

Digital Twins: A key to efficient building operations

Digital twins update and change in synchronization with their physical counterparts when integrating BIM, the Internet of Things and machine learning.

By Adam Roth December 27, 2021
Courtesy: Henderson Engineers

Our design approach at Henderson Engineers is centered around processes that deliver quality in the most innovative and efficient manner. Digital twins, which are virtual, identical representations of the building systems we design, assist in making informed decisions during every stage of a building’s life cycle.

By integrating Building Information Modeling (BIM), the Internet of Things (IoT), and machine learning, digital twins update and change in synchronization with their physical counterparts. Unlike a static data model, a digital twin continuously learns and updates itself from multiple sources to represent its counterpart’s near real-time status, working condition, or position.

This connection of design data and as built data to sensor data and controls brings a building’s digital twin to life. We can therefore learn from the twin over time and use building system IoT platforms – from drop-in boilerplates to fully custom setups – and machine learning to aid future design as well as predictive analytics for the building. The possibilities enabled by this technology are only limited by our imagination.

Courtesy: Henderson Engineers

At Henderson, we’re using digital twins to help shape general IT solutions for buildings with best practices for selection, implementation, and operation. The solutions are different depending on whether you’re interested in simply knowing what happened to an asset versus predicting when it might happen again. Solutions also vary when dealing with a single building versus a campus or a fleet of stores. And as lifelong stewards of the building systems we design, data security and data resiliency are key components to our vendor selection process.

Timely management of a building is critical, and remote monitoring and remote control are very different concepts. Based on a client’s needs, digital twins can enable systems to provide simple reporting information to help facilities managers make decisions and even offer recommended actions or automated responses. While automated system shutdown has been in the building codes for years, it makes a world of difference to have immediate data to quicken an incident response or prevent an incident altogether.

Our Digital Twin Implementation

A fully autonomous digital twin may sound like something out of science fiction, but rest assured it’s feasible. We also understand that the concept can be overwhelming and might seem unnecessary. That’s why we incorporate a layered approach to digital twin implementation at Henderson and measure success based on our ability to deliver a usable system that fits a client’s needs. Our approach allows for a measured design based on the situation. In a nutshell, clients select what they are passionate about and we integrate the building systems design into their selected digital twin model. Application examples include comparing building usage versus asset usage, monitoring single points of failure, or monitoring water temperature for risk of legionella.

A digital hub for project data is only the start. A digital twin is a connected ecosystem, so a cohesive digital twin solution integrates existing, new, and future systems into a connected platform. Part of Henderson’s quality mindset is continuous improvement, and we apply it to people, projects, and buildings. A highly accurate digital twin can/should therefore be commissioned just as you would a physical facility. Accordingly, we are currently working on incorporating asset data into BIM to use it as a platform for digital twins on a large-scale transportation project as well as a large retail program. Connected buildings and connected grids are the future and we are excited to be a part of it.

This originally appeared on Henderson Engineer’s websiteHenderson Engineers is a CFE Media content partner.


Adam Roth
Author Bio: Adam Roth is the Director of BIM/VDC at Henderson Engineers.