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Blog / Industry Trends

Twinning in the AEC Industry

January 11, 2022
By Henry Auger

A Digital Twin is an intelligent 3D virtual representation of a physical object or process. You can test and measure many different operational variables and their effects on a digital replica before applying it to a physical object or process.


The technology originated in the manufacturing industry in 2002. However, the idea of using a digital model to study a physical object was pioneered by NASA in the 1960’s. Fast forward to today, and this technology is now widely used in a number of industries such as manufacturing, healthcare, aviation, oil and gas, and construction.

The growth of Digital Twin

In 2020, the Digital Twin market was valued at $3.1 billion. Industry analysts speculate it will climb to an estimated $48.2 billion by 2026. Advancements in Internet of Things (IOT), artificial intelligence, sensors, and machine learning are quickly moving Digital Twin technology from concept to reality. Consequently this technology will change the face of many industries in the coming years.

Digital Twin and its implications for the AEC market

Digital Twin is changing the way the world is built. And the opportunities for the AEC industry are hard to ignore. It can improve everything from planning, design, and construction to operations and maintenance. Moreover Digital Twin is seen as the next leap forward in the industry and AEC firms who are willing to take a risk and adopt the technology will reap the rewards.

A data-driven approach to a more sustainable built environment

Roughly 20 years ago, BIM technology brought the AEC industry to new horizons. BIM and Digital Twin are both digital representations of a physical object. However BIM is geared toward collaboration and visualization in the design and construction phases. But a Digital Twin, while represented as a BIM model, has more complexity. It includes real-time operational data from a building using various sensors and building analysis from the physical asset.

Digital Twins allow building owners to anticipate problems, simulate scenarios, and make decisions with unparalleled insight. Approximately 80% of a building's total cost is realized throughout its operational lifetime. This is why owners are starting to request digital data at handover. Instead of handing over mountains of disjointed data with the building keys, Digital Twin provides the tools to manage a more cost-friendly and sustainable operation. And that is before they even enter the building!

Leveraging accessible, organized, and actionable data from a Digital Twin can reduce operating costs by up to 35%, drive down carbon emissions, and deliver healthier workplaces.

Transforming Digital Twin through open-source and standards

For Digital Twins to excel, AEC firms must first establish new forms of collaboration. In addition, it may also require measures that encourage co-opetition rather than competition. Imagine how much faster you could solve problems if you had insight into how others already solved those exact same problems. Innovation would explode and firms could quickly make well informed, data-driven decisions. If data was openly accessible for the greater good of the industry it would accelerate the adoption of Digital Twin technology.

The construction industry can benefit from an international digital framework that establishes open interoperability standards. By providing standards for how data is managed, maintained, and shared, the construction industry can easily interpret data and extract actionable insights. This is what international organization buildingSMART and OpenBIM is all about. Ultimately, the ability to freely share and interpret data and insights will create an accurate record of a project. This decreases barriers to entry and providing an optimal environment for Digital Twins to advance.

Interoperability between AEC applications is also essential to making Digital Twin a reality. Digital Twins are data-driven models. However, today most of the data required to create a virtual model is siloed in several applications. Although it may not be economically or technically feasible to store data in one place, the technology exists today to connect information across storage locations and applications.

Open-source data is an essential ingredient to a technologically advanced and sustainable future for the AEC industry. What would it mean to your firm if you could respond to challenges with an entire ecosystem of historical and real-time Digital Twin data at your fingertips?

From concept to competitive advantage

Until recently, storage costs, processing power, and lack of IT expertise were barriers in the adoption of Digital Twin technology. With advancements in real-time technology, IoT, and artificial intelligence, machine-learning Digital Twins are on the forefront of revolutionizing the AEC industry. Since 1964, productivity in the construction sector has consistently declined. Digital Twin presents an opportunity to shift from archaic industry practices to pioneering a new, data-driven approach to sustainability.

The future of Digital Twins is limitless. Consequently increasing amounts of resources are being dedicated to the growth of this technology. Digital Twins are constantly learning new skills and capabilities. This means they can continue to generate insights needed to make processes more efficient while decreasing operational and maintenance costs.

Digital Twins can make your job easier, your customers happier, and profoundly change the way people interact with the buildings of the future. The question is: are AEC firms willing to make the initial investment to capture future ROI?