How standardised data can supercharge digital twins in achieving net-zero construction

As the construction industry strives to reach the World Green Building Council’s goal of achieving total decarbonisation by 2050, digital twins are helping to provide organisations with a better insight into how both new and existing buildings can be made more sustainable.

These virtual models use real world data to create simulations that can predict how a product or process will perform, serving as a constant feedback loop of real-time information. The global market for virtual models is expected to grow 22.6% annually in the next decade, according to a Future Market Insights report – with construction one of the sector’s set to benefit.

When used in tandem with smart sensors installed in buildings, digital twins reveal a great deal about a building’s performance – such as whether insulation could be improved to reduce energy emissions, or predict when a part might break down so it can be fixed before it leads to further problems.

The information collected from these sensors is helping organisations to understand the true performance of products, services and systems, gathering data on temperature, lighting, humidity and other factors. They can then make better-informed decisions for future projects – and, in the case of manufacturers for example, they can create products which are more responsive and perform better over a building’s lifetime.

A lack of co-operation is holding back the industry

However, a lack of co-operation across sectors is currently hampering the effectiveness of digital twins to meet sustainability goals. Many organisations are developing digital twins separately and investing in their own information management systems to manage data, which has created overlap and left information in silos.

This is making digital twinning less effective as the information silos create performance gaps between the intended and actual performance of buildings. With data held in separate systems, organisations are unable to join the dots and visibility between product development, manufacturing and performance in the built environment is poor.

Cross-sector collaboration – a £7bn opportunity

There’s a need, therefore, to connect various systems together and work towards a common goal. This will enable more organisations to see the bigger picture during building projects, helping to create smarter, more energy efficient buildings and cities. In fact, greater data sharing could release an additional £7bn of benefits per year across the UK infrastructure sectors according to Deloitte.

The industry is taking steps in the right direction to achieve this collaboration. For example, the Apollo Protocol, launched by the Institution of Engineering and Technology in September 2022, proposes a cross-sectoral framework that will unlock the benefits of digital twins between the manufacturing and built environment sectors, with the support of the technology sector.

The final piece of the puzzle – making the data robust enough to lean on

While this shared framework will encourage different sectors to work together on a surface level, every organisation involved in the construction value chain needs visibility over digital twin data to be able to see the full benefits from it – from manufacturers to building owners.

This is where data templates have an important role to play. They are helping the industry to standardise the data being collected from this type of technology, making it more easily understandable and usable for all.

These templates are built upon digital data dictionaries which create a common technological language to measure and assess the performance of construction products. They show the defining characteristics of products and materials according to both international, European and National standards.

In this way, organisations can see how energy efficient the lighting or insulation in a building is, for example, and understand whether it is helping them to achieve their sustainable objectives – before making improvements. As this data is standardised, it is also easier for it to be shared more widely.

This standards-based approach to managing data will play an essential role in unlocking the true potential of digital twins – and in turn help organisations to gain a clearer picture of changes they can make to product and building performance to push themselves, and the industry, closer to net-zero.

About the Author

Antony Brophy is UK Director of Business Development at Cobuilder. Cobuilder offers an IT platform that employs all relevant international standards for data management to help construction industry actors exploit the potential of product data. Fit-for-purpose and accurate product data improves quality of service, time to market and reduces time, cost and environmental footprint.

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