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5 Best Practices for Digital Twin Implementation

With digital twins expanding across all asset types, here are five best practices to get the most out of your projects and investments.

By Nicholas D. Evans

With digital twins expanding across all asset types, here are five best practices to get the most out of your projects and investments.

5 best practices for digital twin implementation
Credit: Getty Images

Digital Twins are making solid headway in the civil infrastructure arena with notable examples such as the twin of the entire Republic of Singapore, and the city of Dubai. As mentioned in an earlier article, Keith Bentley of software developer Bentley Systems describes digital twins as the biggest opportunity for IT value contribution to the physical infrastructure industry since the personal computer, and they’re used in a wide variety of industries, lending enterprises insights into maintenance and ways to optimize manufacturing supply chains.

The infrastructure industry, however, can sometimes be its own worst enemy by falling for common objections and barriers to adoption throughout both digital twin strategy and implementation. These objections often include, “But we’ve always done it this way” (resistance to change), “It works just fine as is” (accepting the status quo which may be a sub-optimal solution), “Let’s wait until post-build” (pushing things off until later), “Let’s start with the metaverse” (being distracted by shiny objects), and more.

To counter these common objections, here are five best practices for digital twin implementation that may help you evangelize the most productive approach to seize opportunities for your organization.

Be an early adopter before your competition

One of the most common barriers to adoption is that service providers or clients may be quite happy with the current system, approach, and way of working. If we take the example of bridge inspection, some of these IT systems, or bridge management systems, were first introduced in the late 1980s, leaving a lot to be desired to leverage the latest technology.

For service providers, as a counterargument to “But, we’ve always done it this way,” if you’re not bringing emerging technology to your customer, someone else may beat you to it. Sooner or later these legacy systems will be replaced with more powerful digital twin solutions, providing a complete system of record with visibility into how assets are performing including past, present, and future indicators.

For the service provider, by being an early adopter before your competition, you can gain key learnings even if exploring the technology and conducting pilots. According to Martin Rapos, CEO of AR/VR platform Akular, which converts 3D models into digital twins, the impact of every dollar spent early is an order of magnitude higher than if you spend it five years down the road as a follower. Beyond buildings and bridges, use cases range from remotely driving bulldozers in mines, virtual training on large, specialized equipment, specialty manufacturing design, as well as restaurant design, parking monitoring, and airport operation. All companies that practice and plan with live twins are getting an edge over their competition.

Don’t accept the status quo of siloed solutions

It’s often easy to say, “It works just fine as is.” If we take the example of building management systems, many organizations have most of what they need, such as access control, security cameras, HVAC, and so on, but the question is are they integrated or is this a sub-optimal solution.

It’s important to think about how a digital twin may be able to integrate these existing elements for a common operating picture and single system of record. This can often lead to improvements in efficiency, performance, and cost savings by way of a holistic view of building operations. In addition, it can lead to enhanced occupant experience and comfort, since the digital twin is able to coordinate preferences for temperature, lighting, and air quality.

By acting as a centralized platform for communication and collaboration, the digital twin can also help to break down the human silos in decision-making and offer real-time insights and simulations. To make the business case compared to the status quo, it’s important to itemize all of these and ensure the full benefits of the digital twin can be articulated and understood.

Start the design, build, operate lifecycle now

Rather than wait until post-build, consider initiating digital twins during the planning, design, and construction phases of your projects. At the planning stage, this can enable plan simulation and various what-if scenario testing prior to committing to real-world investment.

Part of the benefit of digital twins is they can address the full lifecycle from construction twins to operational twins. The digital twins, therefore, know far more than after-the-fact asset management systems, and the learnings and insights captured by the twin during design and build can improve operations and maintenance.

According to Rapos, early incorporation allows for better data collection, more accurate modeling, and immediate feedback during the construction or development phase. It’s crucial to understand that digital twins aren’t just a final product, but a dynamic tool that evolves and adds value throughout the project’s life. Delaying its development can result in missed opportunities for optimization and innovation.

Craft your future vision but beware of shiny objects

While the metaverse may be attractive, be sure to plan your technical implementation from the correct starting point. For example, start with the digital twin, your IoT integration points, and all the data you need to make informed decisions, and then add collaboration and visualization later on, as opposed to starting with the metaverse and trying to work backward.

The metaverse may be a desirable future vision and end-state, but it’s often not ready for prime time in terms of the starting point or the core foundational platform, particularly for engineering-grade applications. It’s far more practical to start with a digital twin at the core of your technical architecture and think about the various data sources you wish to integrate. This provides you with real-time data from which to make decisions, as well as more advanced options such as AI-enabled defect detection, which is particularly beneficial for physical infrastructure, such as bridges and roadways.

Ask the hard questions of the digital twin

In addition to all of the above, it’s important to consider the ROI of the digital twin. If it’s a digital twin of a building, does it provide more than a NEST system or the existing siloed systems, for example. Also, what financial and non-financial benefits are anticipated, and what the near-term as well as longer-term benefits are.

One of the key benefits of digital twins is they allow you to incorporate multiple use cases into a single model. Construction use cases, for example, can range from cladding, concrete maturity, and logistics optimization, to health and safety of workers. The most effective way to get results quickly is to work with a platform that enables multiple use cases.

Once you’ve prioritized your target use cases, you can determine how they contribute to the overall ROI in terms of cost savings, efficiency gains, revenue enhancement, risk mitigation, quality and performance improvements, strategic and long-term value, and environmental and sustainability impact.

With digital twins expanding across almost all asset types, even up to the level of entire cities and countries, all these best practices will be vital to get the most out of your projects and investments.

To access the original article, please click here. 

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