Contractors enlist digital twins to tackle supply chain, labor issues
Digital twin technologies help simulate processes, workflows and timelines, thereby allowing contractors to better understand bottlenecks and challenges in their supply chain.
But digital twins are less a technology than they are the application of multiple technologies to duplicate, plan and simulate the real life version of a system, said Mark Driscoll, senior director at Waltham, Massachusetts-based AMC Bridge, an engineering software development firm, inlcuding those for building, manufacturing or mechanical processes.
“Some of the benefits are predicting issues in a system long before they occur. This would allow the user to avoid costly shut downs and better plan for modifications,” said Driscoll. “Digital twins can also be useful in testing different system parameters, environments and conditions that could impact the performance of the system. Again, saving time and money in the process.”
For example, Boston-based Suffolk Construction primarily uses digital assets for its lab and healthcare projects, said Geoff Camp, the company’s manager of process innovation, which gives it visibility into any potential material and labor hurdles.
“When you have a built digital asset during the design, you certainly have a little more predictability on the materials you need, you can better plan your labor resources, your sequence of construction, that sort of thing,” said Camp. “The struggles I think that are happening in logistics, delays in materials, and lengthening procurement time, you can certainly plan a little better than normal.”
For instance, a lot of the mechanical, electrical and plumbing products that go into wet labs, which use liquids to test and analyze materials, can take more than 30 weeks to procure. Shane Flanagan, senior project manager at Dome Construction, said digital twins are “really helpful because it’s going to help clarify and quantify the amount of raw materials that you’re going to be needing for that new construction.”
“Digital twins are really having a groundswell around them in terms of the information and then people’s overall interest,” said Flanagan. The California-based general contractor is also heavily leveraged in the life science industry, around two-thirds of Dome’s business, and recently announced an office opening in San Diego, a major life science hub.
Contractors gaining interest
London-based Sensat, a visualisation and collaboration software company for civil infrastructure, used its digital twin tools to map past, present and future data for Canada Water’s 53-acre London site in one digital replica. That allowed British Land, a U.K. property development and investment company, to better understand the site and its constraints to expedite the options appraisal process, feasibility reporting and risk evaluations.
“They’re using it to implement the designs on top of the reality data to understand any early stage problems that might arise,” said James Fricker, managing director at Sensat. “Then, they’re able to engage with subcontractors to point out specific areas in the georeference capacity to say, ‘Hey we’ve spotted this area here,’ or, ‘It’s worth flagging that there.'”
But a number of contractors are not using any form of digital twin technologies on their projects. That could be due to resistance to changing common processes, said Thomas Whiting, managing director at Amodal, a London-based information management company that also worked on the Canada Water site.
Flanagan said more companies are just beginning to become more savvy with digital twin technologies. The global market for digital twins is expected to grow 38% annually to reach $16 billion by 2023, according to a Deloitte report.
For Driscoll, that seems to be “a very regional phenomenon. For instance in the U.K., there are standards for BIM and digital twin usage,” Driscoll said. “In Germany, the building trades are starting to work together to synchronize data availability.”
But in the U.S., in contrast, many companies do not utilize a real digital twin deployment because they can’t share their electronic data.
“In these cases, all of the data used to create a building has to be recreated at every step of the process,” Driscoll said. “Clearly that is inefficient.”