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How digital twin technology is transforming smart building innovation

By Maddy GlynnDigital Marketing Specialist
Published on September 15, 2021

Welcome to Industry 4.0, where innovative sectors are employing automation and adopting smart technologies to help save time and money while boosting human capital and helping to preserve our planet’s resources.

In commercial real estate, an emerging technology known as “digital twinning” is one aspect of this new industrial revolution. Digital twins allow investors, architects, designers, engineers, and even end users to visualize a structure as a complete virtual ecosystem in order to make predictions about its use and automate solutions to changing conditions.

Below, we’ll take a look at how this technology works, what types of information it runs on, and just how it can make the commercial real estate industry more efficient by allowing us to reimagine old buildings and conceptualize new ones from the ground up.

What is digital twin technology and how does it work?

A digital twin is a precise computerized replica of a physical object. By replicating something virtually, we can use the model to monitor and manipulate data points, predicting real-life outcomes. We can create digital twins of just about any asset, from a human to a hospital, and even create virtual models of processes or systems.

A digital twin is often represented as a 3D model, but it’s more helpful to think of it as a collection of dynamic information. In the case of real estate assets, the model is integrated with the physical asset and its IoT devices (such as temperature or motion sensors) in order to visualize a real-time data flow. 

In construction and architecture, digital twins can also be created alongside their real-life counterparts. Before a building even exists, the model can serve as “living” and evolving simulation to help designers explore creative layout options, predict problems, try out solutions, and even plan for future upgrades.

Digital twins will soon be an expected part of commercial real estate, and smart buildings and automating solutions will become routine. Networks of sensors can be built into new assets or incorporated into older buildings in order to collect data on:

  • The real-time use of the building by tenants
  • The use and efficiency of HVAC and temperature systems, lighting, and other energy use
  • Cleaning schedules
  • Maintenance data
  • Security, emergency, and other building management systems
  • The movement of people within the building and the use of floor plans

Digital twins can provide value to tenants and owners by optimizing these systems in order to assist in safety and compliance, troubleshoot problems 24/7, and use a model’s predictive capabilities to run simulations on how to better utilize the space in the future. At the cutting edge of digital twin technology is the self-maintenance of buildings that automates repairs and adjustments.

Why digital twins are important to IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the drivers of digital twin technology. It’s adoption — along with data-driven analytics and machine learning technology — first transformed manufacturing as the industry adopted digital twins for both products and processes. Now, it’s real estate’s turn.

In architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC), twinning a relatively new concept, but it’s poised to help revolutionize the way we think about the construction, maintenance, and asset management of buildings. It is simultaneously technology-driven and people-centric, helping us to assess the ways in which buildings are actually used — rather than idealized — so we can make them more useful, comfortable, and efficient.

Data on the use and efficiency of building systems can be collected and transmitted to operators anywhere in the world from a variety of wireless and embedded sensors. Sources of this data for commercial real estate can include thermostats, HVAC units, power outlets, humidity monitors, lighting systems, and even elevator controls. A sophisticated twin may also draw data from third-party cloud services or even local weather monitors, all in the service of creating an exact living model of the building.

How digital twins are reinventing innovation for real estate operations

In commercial real estate, using digital twins allows investors, architects, designers, engineers, and even end users to visualize a structure as a complete ecosystem that is capable of automating solutions to adapt to changing conditions.

And a twin need not be created at the beginning of a building’s life cycle. Data collection and the installation of connected sensors can be done in older buildings as well. By creating a 3D building information model (BIM), employing IoT sensor technology, and making use of the data that is produced 24/7 about an asset, we’re able to see how a building might react to changes in the real world as well as create future simulations that predict how it will continue to perform months or years down the line.

How is digital twin technology central to smart buildings?

Digital twin technology helps realize the promises of IoT devices. Until recently, the desire to create “smart buildings” has been hampered by mass quantities of unintegrated data. Digital twins not only collect data produced by sensors and other devices, but systematizes and organizes it so it can be used to make deliberate decisions and encourage a more efficient building use of resources.

Not only do digital twins help produce actionable insights based on real-time data, but they can be programmed to process historical data as well, helping to solve old problems, optimizing legacy systems, and even detecting future problems. Eventually, these building systems will be able to triage problems themselves and arrange predictive maintenance before anything goes wrong. This will save countless hours of time on the part of building engineers and help keep tenants safe.

Ideally, a digital twin for a commercial real estate asset will benefit owners, operators, building managers, tenants, and employees.

How is digital twin technology transforming the real estate journey?

Digital twin technology will be crucial to commercial real estate in the coming years. It allows access to building specifications and real-time data 24/7, reduces the labor costs of managing assets, and make life more comfortable for tenants.

Even before breaking ground, a digital twin of can allow investors to see how a smart building will perform via predictive analytics. Being able to set expectations up front about energy-saving, reduced maintenance costs, and efficient utilization of the space will be a major selling point, allowing AEC companies to win more projects and commercial real estate agents access to more selling points. Customers will be able to experience building before they even exist or are inhabited and will be able to reimagine older assets in entirely new ways.

Honeywell Forge is an example of an enterprise performance management solution that uses real-time accurate models and advanced analytics to deliver intelligent actionable recommendations for sustained peak performance. Connectivity is based on an extensible platform that provides an enterprise-wide, top-to- bottom view, displaying the status of process, assets, people, and safety. Honeywell Forge supports the end-to-end capability to execute digital twins against process data and translate their output into actionable insights.

Our mobile technology solutions here at Sine support Honeywell Forge’s offerings of an enhanced occupant experience with our expanded security, safety and compliance capabilities. Learn more about our solutions today by booking a demo with our team.