Unleashing the Potential of Digital Twins in Building Renovation

By Samantha Schoenlank and Antonia Egli (Dublin City University)

This month, we continue to explore the transformative impact of technology on the renovation sector by covering RINNO’s newly published open-access book ‘Disrupting Buildings: Digitalisation and the Transformation of Deep Renovation’. Read on for insights from Chapter 6 ‘Digital Twins and Their Roles in Building Deep Renovation Life Cycle’ and dive into some key points to help understand digital twins in construction and renovation. This chapter exposes the various definitions of digital twins, illustrates the basic steps and relevant methods for creating a digital twin, explores of state-of-the-art deep learning methods for digital twins, and discusses some real-life use cases.

The construction sector, which often grapples with challenges like low productivity and environmental impact, stands at the brink of transformation through digitalisation. In this chapter, we delve into the potential of digital twins in addressing these challenges within the architecture, engineering, construction, and operations (AECO) sector. Digital twins, an emerging paradigm, offer a glimpse into smart buildings and cities, and bring about increased productivity and efficiency.

Twinning in AECO (credits: NEWFORMA)

Understanding Digital Twins

Within the realm of innovative technological paradigms, digital twins stand out as dynamic entities, encapsulating physical assets within the architecture, engineering, construction, and operations (AECO) sector. The concept of digital twins revolves around three fundamental elements: the tangible physical product, its virtual counterpart, and their integral connection enabling seamless data exchange.

Digital twins emerge as information repositories throughout an asset’s life cycle. The life cycle of a digital twin unfolds in three distinct stages: design, construction, and operation. Each stage contributes to the accumulation of valuable data, transforming the digital twin into an information repository with far-reaching implications.

  1. Design Stage: In the design stage, the asset’s conceptual plan takes shape. The digital twin, at this embryonic phase (“foetal digital twin”), encapsulates a wealth of product and process information. The creation of a geometric digital twin involves using cutting-edge technologies like laser scanning and photogrammetry. Multiple building information models (BIMs) are proposed, converging into a client-approved design file labelled “Design Intent.” This serves as a benchmark, guiding subsequent construction and maintenance endeavours.
  2. Construction Stage: As the asset transitions to the construction stage, the “child digital twin” emerges, incorporating off-site prefabricated assemblies and on-site constructed components. Simultaneously, the child digital twin captures as-built product information and as-performed process information, mirroring the asset’s evolving physical status. Changes are continually updated, facilitating progress monitoring and quality control.
  3. Operation Stage: Finally, in the operation stage, the “adult digital twin” attains an unchangeable status post-construction. The adult digital twin, now a mature repository, supports in-depth analyses of performance metrics such as energy consumption and component maintenance. Data collected during operations enriches the adult digital twin, fostering a holistic understanding of the asset’s long-term behaviour.

This dynamic evolution through a building’s life cycle positions digital twins as invaluable tools, offering a comprehensive narrative of the asset’s journey and enabling nuanced performance analysis at every stage.

Digital twins find diverse applications in the construction and renovation sectors, serving roles in progress monitoring, facilities management, asset condition monitoring, and sustainable development. From real-time progress monitoring during construction/renovation to predictive maintenance and IoT-driven facility management, digital twins showcase their versatility.

Challenges to Digital Twin Adoption

While the potential benefits of digital twins are undeniable, the road to adoption is not without hurdles. Although significant strides have been made, challenges persist particularly in the manual detection of geometric objects. Deep learning offers some support, such as a dearth of labelled datasets in the AECO domain, to bring about future seamless automation. Effort-intensive processes, particularly in reconstructing MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumbing) elements, equally pose challenges to the feasibility of digital twins. Automation efforts have primarily targeted large structural elements, leaving intricacies such as floor plans and object IDs to manual intervention. Overcoming these challenges is imperative to unlocking the full potential of digital twins.

Future Direction

‘Disrupting Buildings’ Chapter 6 offers a comprehensive exploration of digital twins in the built environment with a specific focus on building renovation. Acknowledging the potential benefits of digital twins, it also underscores the challenges in generating and updating digital twins efficiently. The need for ongoing research to support practical applications throughout a facility’s life cycle is emphasised, reflecting the evolving quest for precision and efficiency in digital twin implementation.

To learn more about deep renovation technologies in general, you can download the open access book ‘Disrupting Buildings: Digitalisation and the Transformation of Deep Renovation’ for free. To download the full open access book, ‘Disrupting Buildings,’ click here.


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