The construction industry is one of Asia-Pacific’s biggest users of non-renewable resources. It’s also the second largest waste producer (next to manufacturing), generating around 16 per cent of all the region’s waste each year. Thankfully, most construction companies already adopt various sustainable approaches, as mandated by law, to further minimise consumption and waste. As a result, around 76 per cent of all construction waste is now recycled.
Of course, recycling and reusing construction materials are just some methods that have helped boost construction sustainability over the years. The increasing popularity of green building construction using alternative materials, such as structural insulated panels, engineered wood, and plastic-based concrete, has also played a pivotal role.
Achieving sustainability in construction through digital twin technology
In addition to physical tactics, many construction companies have also started integrating data-driven digital solutions into their processes to upgrade their material utilisation and waste management. Digital twins, initially developed for manufacturing and aerospace, is now a key driver of sustainable construction.
A digital twin (or virtual twin) is simply a virtual representation of an object. In construction, it’s the digital version of the architectural plan. But unlike traditional architectural plans, it consists of scalable, adjustable, and interactive multi-layer images and illustrations of the building to be constructed.
Virtual twins, also known as digital twins, are virtual replicas of physical assets used by construction firms to improve their productivity and sustainability. By leveraging virtual data sets in real-time, organizations can detect operational problems before they occur, optimize their design processes, and better manage their environmental footprint.
BIM management software and digital twin software
Understanding the distinctions between BIM model software and virtual twin software allows construction companies to maximise these software’s capabilities for their sustainable building projects. Builders use BIM to better visualise the construction project from beginning to end.
Unlike typical architectural and engineering drawings, a BIM model is a three-dimensional design with layers of information that can be added, removed, or altered when necessary. As a result, it enables team collaboration, including data transaction and interoperation, for seamless task executions.
Virtual twins, on the other hand, are more focused on human interaction within the structure being built. They utilise the information provided by the BIM model but capture real-time data to provide insights into the site operation. They use sensors and IoTs to detect, record, report, and analyse instantaneous occurrences within the site or facility.
Using virtual twins in construction projects allows organizations to make better decisions, reduce the strain on resources, and stay ahead of ever-changing customer demands in a highly competitive industry. This can lead to tangible cost savings and increased efficiency.
Through digital twins, construction firms are able to monitor the lifecycle of their assets from preconstruction through commissioning. They can assess sustainability compliance, such as energy efficiency, air pollution reduction, and waste management. They can also optimize their performance by tracking asset health, energy consumption levels, and usage patterns.
Additionally, virtual twins enable virtual simulations to be used in the early stages of construction projects. This allows designers to identify potential risks and problems before they occur while testing different designs through virtual scenarios. As a result, virtual twins reduce the need for costly physical prototypes while ensuring design accuracy.
How digital twins lead the way to net zero construction
Sustainable construction can be defined simply as a construction method with little to no environmental impact. Six things must be done to achieve this:
- Conserve water, fuel, electricity, and other resources during and after construction.
- Reuse construction materials, such as timber and metal scaffolding and formworks.
- Use recycled and alternative construction materials.
- Save as much flora and fauna on the construction site as possible, including relocating full-grown trees and animals.
- Avoid using toxic chemicals.
- Only utilise high-quality materials and follow best practices.
Considering the scope and functions of digital twin technology, it can directly and indirectly help construction companies achieve these goals. Here’s how:
#1. Reduce waste with more accurate material cost estimation
Green building often refers to a structure with energy-saving features. But actually, it also covers the construction process, which generates half the building’s carbon footprint. The construction company must construct the green building with as little waste as possible. With only data from previous projects, which may not include recent innovations and regulatory changes, it’s challenging to devise an efficient system.
With digital twins feeding real-time data into the BIM via sensor-equipped vehicles and facilities, you can obtain various insights relevant to material use, including:
- Which part of the construction operation produces the most waste
- What materials are often misused or wasted
- Vehicles or machines causing the depletion of supplies
- Practices that lead to excessive construction waste
This may not be useful for you in the first couple of projects where you’ve just employed the digital twins. However, the resulting analyses and insights of the collected data can help you formulate construction operation and management guidelines that can significantly improve your material cost estimate, conservation of resources, and waste management.
#2. Simplify processes by unifying data storage and management into a single platform
Building construction, particularly net zero building, is a multidimensional process. Each aspect is handled by a separate team of professionals following different rules and practices. Sometimes, these variances create a gap between teams that precludes collaboration.
The only way to bridge the gap is to find tools that help streamline the process, such as asking permission from specific personnel to obtain information or documents from each other. Digital twin-integrated BIM, supported by project management software like PlanRadar, simplifies the process by providing a single platform where everyone can communicate, raise concerns, and get solutions.
#3. Prevent injuries and property damage with better risk assessment
As above, digital twins is focused on people’s interaction with the building being constructed or occupied. Therefore, the data they collect and analyse is more accurate than those taken from studies, surveys, and statistics, which have different respondents and settings. This data is also not based on mere logic or professional opinions. Instead, they are from actual incidents and responses in the building or construction site.
This means that whatever analyses the system comes up with is closest to the truth. They are your best basis for decisions when it comes to safety guidelines. For instance, you can tell which area at the site is most prone to accidents. With this information, you can implement specific procedures to prevent those accidents. With your personnel and assets protected, you can finish the project quickly and save resources.
#4. Speed up response to incidents through real-time alerts and reports
With digital twin technology, you can get real-time alerts and reports about an incident detected by your sensors, unlike before when you could only know about a particular situation when someone discovers it several hours later. This way, you can respond quickly and minimise wasteful damage to assets, occupants and resources.
You can even automate responses to eliminate human intervention, which is often flawed. For instance, you can program the system to shut off power in the least used areas in the building. In case of accidents such as fire or a leak due to a broken valve, the system can alert concerned personnel or automatically shut off connecting pipelines.
#5. Streamline asset and waste management through real-time monitoring
You can also program your digital twins to monitor areas at the construction site where waste is collected and segregated to determine how much waste goes to landfill and how much is recycled. Or, you can set a realistic volume limit based on cost estimates to know whether you’re using your supplies efficiently.
You can also create a layer in the digital twins that shows the frequency of activity in the equipment servicing area and use the data to develop a predictive maintenance program. Then, with all your equipment in perfect working order, you can avoid power guzzling, poor emissions, and costly breakdowns.
The future of sustainable construction
Overall, virtual twins lead to more sustainable construction by optimizing operational performance and enabling virtual simulations. Through digital twins, construction firms can save time, money, and resources while reducing their environmental impact. This makes virtual twin technology an invaluable tool in achieving a more sustainable built environment.