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Benefits, Challenges & Best Practices for Using Digital Twins in Construction

The use of digital twin technology – which creates a digital representation of the physical world – is becoming a key differentiator for firms in the AEC industry. In the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown, contractors face increasing demand for new facilities with sophisticated designs to accommodate retrofit requirements supporting a hybrid workforce. Digital twins can help throughout the planning, budget, design, and construction phases.

Construction is a complex sector with a variety of different stakeholders, including architects, engineers, contractors, building owners, and municipalities. Digital twins enable all of these groups to manage and share data, breaking down silos and improving decision-making across physical and departmental divides. Indeed, Forrester Research reports that 55% of global software technology decision-makers are already adopting digital twins, applying them to everything from design to maintenance. 

What is a digital twin in construction?

Digital twins are used in construction projects to create exact replicas of real-world spaces. These 3D models allow construction teams to interact virtually with the physical property during the design and planning stages.

Digital twins give project teams immersive access to critical building intelligence in real time, which allows them to realize benefits in several key areas:

  • Faster and easier collaboration among project stakeholders
  • Increased productivity
  • More efficient workflows between contractors and trades
  • Reduction of issues and RFI’s 

By incorporating digital twins into the BIM (Building Information Modelling) process, contractors and AE firms can address many of the most pressing challenges in the industry, including low productivity, profitability, and performance, and high error and accident rates. Digital twins in construction can also help firms reduce their virtual design and construction costs and, potentially, win more bids.

How digital twins work

Digital twins are created using a range of technologies, including 3D laser scanners, sensors, cameras, and other Internet-of-things (IoT) devices. There are three main stages involved in creating a digital twin:

  1. Capture: First, digital twins can be captured with a variety of digital cameras, including the phone in your pocket. Using the Matterport app on your mobile device is an easy and affordable way to get started. 

Alternatively, you could use a number of compatible 360 pano-cameras to generate digital twins. And for jobs that require absolute precision, the Matterport Pro Series camera offers advanced scanning capabilities for both indoor and outdoor spaces. 

  1. Edit, document, and tag building assets: Use editing tools such as Blur and Tim to adjust your digital twin for clarity and security purposes. This enables easy and accurate visualizations of physical spaces, with measurements, and customizable areas. Next, MatterTags and notes can be placed on the model to fortify data associated with specific assets that would be valuable in a handover package to an owner.  For example, MSDS, warranty, and install PDFs can be uploaded and attached to a note placed on an air handler or other mechanical systems
  1. Share and collaborate: You can share digital twin models with remote teams and offices, reducing the need for in-person site visits and cutting down on travel expenses, and supporting more environmentally-friendly business practices in AEC. This also allows far-flung teams to collaborate and coordinate more efficiently with accessible technology.

7 benefits of digital twins in construction

Offering a high degree of interoperability and automation, digital twins have the potential to revolutionize several aspects of the construction business. We will cover a few of the main benefits of digital twins in construction in this section. 

1. Improved resource management 

The use of digital twins can improve the procurement process and ease supply chain holdups, fostering harmonization between the current progress and future deliverables and helping construction firms better allocate resources and physical assets.

2. Easier communication with stakeholders 

With Matterport software, project managers can export point cloud, OBJ files, high-resolution floor plans, and reflective ceiling plan views into 3ds Max, ReCap, Revit, and many others. This means stakeholders at every stage of the construction process can stay up-to-date on the latest advancements and red-flag any immediate concerns.

3. Better informed decision-making and planning 

Digital twins are a proactive planning tool, allowing clients or building owners to provide feedback before the jackhammering begins or the sheetrock is installed. Engineers can also perform more extensive assessments for items like duct locations and utility placements, while architects can anticipate aesthetic concerns, such as paint color or lighting layouts. The use of digital twins empowers the improvement of design risk assessments and condition surveys, effectively enabling collaborators to shift away from PDF reports and photos by providing an immersive view to more effectively understand site conditions and issues.

4. Automated progress monitoring

Documenting progress is critical for any new construction project, and digital twins provide a way for managers to keep tabs on projects from afar. General contractors and building owners require documentation to verify construction is progressing in line with standards and according to design. Good documentation also reduces errors and the need for re-work​. Comprehensive progress monitoring helps facilitate a successful end-of-project handoff from the construction team to facilities management.

5. More accurate assumptions and predictions 

By eliminating the need for site visits while still providing a comprehensive overview of the built environment, managers can get faster and more accurate subcontractor estimates. They can also create virtual punch lists by annotating the 3D model with notes, links, photos, and videos.

6. Easier safety monitoring 

Remote inspections allow project managers to better oversee safety procedures. Also, digital twins provide accurate, virtual measurements of hard-to-reach or dangerous environments, meaning employees don’t have to take unnecessary risks while on-site.   

7. Robust handover deliverables for owners

Contractors who are using Matterport to collect existing conditions throughout the progress of a project and are then fortifying the model with embedded data tied to MEP systems—provide their owners with a digital handover package that allows them to manage the building on day 1.  

Challenges of creating a digital twin for construction projects

To effectively deploy digital twins, some construction firms might have to overcome long-standing challenges in the industry. We will talk about the main challenges to be mindful of when implementing digital twins in construction in this section. 

Lack of contractual awareness 

Understanding the nuances of a contract is a fundamental aspect of any construction project, and the incorporation of new technology, like digital twins, can significantly alter the process. But by keeping a record of the project’s scope and the client’s key drivers, digital twins can aid in ensuring the requirements of a building contract are upheld and understood by all parties

Lack of data understanding

Many construction firms experience challenges when trying to harness data effectively, struggling with a lack of capabilities to derive insights, employing disparate data management systems between IT and OT, and suffering from an inability to access data in real time or on tight deadlines. One of the advantages of Matterport is the easy integration with other data streams. 

The move to BIM

Even now, many construction firms use 2D design technology for critical building projects. Leveraging a BIM model tied to a virtual design and construction process requires more complex 3D modeling technology and new skill sets within a firm.

No structure or defined SOPs 

Some construction projects lack processes around data exchange and issue resolution, which makes the introduction of digital twins another hurdle for stakeholders to overcome. But by creating a single source of truth, digital twins make sure everyone – from contractors to inspectors to clients – is on the same page throughout a project’s lifecycle. 

Financial limitations

With so many budgetary demands to juggle, construction firms may be initially reluctant to spend on digital transformation. But the substantial savings as a result of reducing re-work, increasing effective collaboration and minimizing travel expenses more than justify the investment. 

Digital twin examples in construction

Many prominent architecture and construction firms have used digital twins to fundamentally change the way they approach projects. Here are a few stories from leading companies about how they realized the benefits of digital twins to improve their workflows.

Corgan Realizes Construction ROI with Matterport 3D Digital Twin of LAX

When Corgan – a leading architecture and design firm – began working on a $1.6B construction project at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), managers integrated digital twin technology into the construction workflow to optimize performance and productivity. 

Using the Matterport Pro2 camera, Corgan documented key milestones, created virtual punch lists, and shared 3D digital twins with owners, contractors, and facility managers. 

Digital twin technology also helped Corgan overcome one of the largest challenges in the design phase of a new construction project: capturing the existing site conditions. The initial stage of the LAX project was a utility tunnel spanning 18,000 square feet. Corgan completed 50 scans in about an hour, and project teams have reduced that time by 50% since then using Matterport’s fast capture capability.

Takenaka Uses Matterport Digital Twins for Remote Inspections and Effective Collaboration

In 2017, Takenaka Corporation became one of the first Japanese firms to adopt Matterport’s digital twin technology in the construction industry. By capturing digital twins of construction and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) projects throughout a building lifecycle, project teams are able to collaborate more effectively at every stage of the construction process.

Initially, Takenaka used conventional 3D laser scanners to capture spaces digitally. But this required a lot of processing time for scanned data. It also required engineers to conduct site surveys and capture these costly scans. With Matterport’s digital twin technology, Takenaka was able to streamline the project management process in several ways: 

  • Reducing the time to produce 360-degree photographs by 90%
  • Saving thousands of dollars per scan by eliminating the need to use expensive laser scanners
  • Cutting travel and labor costs through remote surveying and inspections

Swinerton Uses Matterport Digital Twins to Keep Projects Moving Forward

During the COVID-19 lockdown, Swinerton – a San Francisco-based construction firm – had to ensure progress remained transparent to clients, even as social distancing limited access to physical assets and construction sites.

Using the Matterport Pro2 camera, Swinerton produced highly detailed 3D scans of a 20,000-square-foot space in a few hours. The scans were sent to clients, architects, engineers, and sub-consultants who could virtually navigate the space and suggest changes in real time. The use of digital twins enabled Swinerton to keep projects on track in a variety of ways:

  • Reducing client travel time by 100 percent 
  • Cutting MEP and architect travel time by 50 percent 
  • Eliminating four weeks of potential project delays
  • Saving clients thousands of dollars by preventing costly errors and re-work

4 tips for implementing digital twin technology in the next project

Looking for the most bang for your buck from digital twins in construction? Here are a few tips to get started:

1. Familiarize yourself with rules and regulations

Before using digital twins on a construction site, firms need to ensure they’re being compliant with local laws and regulations. However, digital twins should allow contractors to accelerate the approval and permitting process, and generate testable plans more quickly.

2. Invest in new staff training programs 

Historically, the construction industry has been slow to adopt new technology. It may be necessary for firms to introduce new training programs to reskill workers in the knowledge they’ll need to get the most out of digital twins. Special sessions on cybersecurity may also be required for employees tasked with safeguarding proprietary information.

3. Build a digital twin architectural roadmap

Having a strategic blueprint in place that outlines how digital twins will help achieve the project’s aims is a good way to make sure all stakeholders are on the same page. These architectural roadmaps can serve as a reference point throughout the project lifecycle, helping teams stay on task and align on goals.

4. Integrate relevant technologies 

Matterport digital twins integrate seamlessly with existing programs such as SketchUp, Revit, AutoCAD, and other commonly used design software BIM. Construction managers can export their point cloud and easily share it within Revit or other BIM tools, and they can generate OBJ files and point clouds for as-builts and construction documentation.

Matterport helps you build a solid base for the next construction project

Matterport’s 3D data platform is a powerful and effective way to document and collaborate on the construction process of a building or property. With a compatible camera, you can create a digital model of small or large spaces with a level of detail that is close to being actually on-site. These models are delivered in a navigable, photo-realistic view that uses patented computer vision and artificial intelligence technologies known as Cortex AI.

The Matterport digital twin platform also lets you export additional file formats into other third-party software into other platforms easily, saving you significant amounts of manual work and time. 

With Matterport, you can:

  • Document and communicate key milestones quickly and effectively
  • Eliminate travel time by sharing and annotating in the model 
  • Perform remote quality checks, measure while off-site, and reduce in-person visits by capturing all data the first time

Check out Matterport’s website for more info

For more information on how a digital twin can help streamline your projects, improve documentation and collaboration and reduce design and construction costs, visit Matterport’s website: https://matterport.com/industries/architects-engineering-construction

FAQs on digital twins in construction

How are construction businesses using digital twin technology?

Construction firms use digital twins to reduce their footprint on job sites, enhance safety and monitoring procedures, speed up workflow processes, increase automation, improve asset management, and give stakeholders the information they need to empower effective documentation and collaboration on a project. 

How do you get started using a digital twin solution for a construction project?

You can introduce digital twin creation at any point in your construction project, even if it's already begun or nearly complete, to make the remaining stages more efficient. For any property of any size, Matterport Capture Service professionals are ready to create digital twins for you in 700+ cities around the world. After your appointment, your digital twins will be ready for you to start using in as fast as 24-48 hours.

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