Digital twins conquer construction sites


Digital twins conquer construction sites

Digital techniques such as Building Information Modeling (BIM) are set to make the planning and construction of buildings much easier. The technology is still in its infancy. When it comes to the digitalisation of the construction industry, Hager Group has been there from the start.

Frédéric Bastin, IT Consultant Engineering, SDM Applications & Software has been with Hager Group for two and a half years. With his team, he implements Building Information Modeling.
Ruud Bovenkamp is responsible for a construction project on the Papendrecht campus of Dutch company Boskalis. It took around two months for the complete BIM 3D planning to be ready.
Martwin de Man: Since 2004 he has been working for Hager Group as project manager in the Netherlands. The project with Boskalis was one of the first that was done in 3D.
Valerian Timm joined Hager Group in 2019 and has been in charge of Building Information Modeling since January 2020.

The frustration he felt each time he had to tear out an electrical installation which he had only just put in place is still fresh in Frédéric Bastin’s mind. It is not uncommon on construction sites for a planner to overlook cable ducts when planning for ventilation shafts. “In complex new building projects, such collisions are almost unavoidable, even with thorough planning,” says Frédéric Bastin, who in his earlier career used to work as an electrical engineer on construction sites all over the world. “For craftsmen, such things are annoying. For the builder, it‘s expensive, and for his project it‘s a not insignificant time and cost factor.”

In the future, planning and construction as a whole could be raised to a whole new, virtual level, making such collision errors a thing of the past. This is thanks to a digital technology that Frédéric Bastin and his team are currently helping to develop at Hager Group. With so-called “Building Information Modeling” (BIM), many buildings will in future be able to be created as virtual images during and even before the actual construction process. Such “digital twins” are already widespread in the automotive and manufacturing industries, for example. Now they are also beginning to conquer the construction business.

BIM can be used to simulate spaces that are not (yet) available in real life, but will need to be fully functional in the near future.

Frédéric Bastin, IT Consultant Engineering, SDM Applications & Software

The main distribution board of the Dutch company headquarters of Boskalis. In total there are three 800-amp main distribution boards.
The promise

Simply put, a digital twin is a dynamic growth imprint of a real-world product or process. The raw material from which such digital mirror images are formed is data. Ideally, the database is so precise and extensive that the twin mirrors its original image in all its relevant properties, true to the original and in real time.

Two lines that do not get in each other‘s way thanks to BIM planning. Thanks to the planning in the 3D model, a solution was found before the installation so that the red gas line and the grey busbar do not block each other‘s path.

Industrial companies that want to digitally map and analyse their production and products rely on this. General Electric, for example, is already using Digital Twin technology at 800,000 industrial plants around the world. The tech company uses it to animate aircraft engines, wind turbines and complete power plants, among other things, and thus gains valuable knowledge about how a power plant runs, when an engine needs maintenance and where potential weak points lurk in a wind power plant.

Digital twins are more than mere virtual images, they are three-dimensional, living replicas of the original object or process. Just like human twins, they not only look like their siblings, they also react similarly. Digital and real twins share DNA and the same characteristics.

That is what makes them so valuable. Because through them, the real world out there – and even the one that is just emerging – can be given a digital trial run. They even allow us to try out the distant future. This is enormously valuable, not least in the construction industry, where Building Information Modeling has been developed since the 1980s, but is only now really starting to gain momentum.

Plus points for the construction industry

“BIM can be used to simulate spaces that are not (yet) available in real life but will need to be fully functional in the near future,” explains Frédéric Bastin. In digital, three-dimensional models, the trades involved in the construction can adjust their components and test them in interaction. Planners can explore and correct the building‘s functions and dimensions even before the very first excavator has moved in. So, before an air-conditioning engineer and an electrical engineer come to blows on the real construction site, they will have recognised and avoided the danger of collision in the virtual model. Frédéric comments, “BIM is perfect for the building trades. You keep your own perspective but link it to that of other trades already in the construction phase.”

At the moment, the industry is still at the very beginning.

Valerian Timm, Customer Manager for Electrical Consultants

An example of this is the Centre for Virtual Engineering (ZVE) at the Fraunhofer Institute in Stuttgart. During its planning phase, the 3,200-square-metre building designed by UNStudio and Asplan Architekten was recreated in a three-dimensional, true-to-scale virtual reality model. Every two to four weeks, architects, planners, craftsmen and customers met in this simulated building model to discuss the construction. 3D glasses were put on and high-performance projectors were started, which projected the three-dimensional model onto a room-sized powerwall. While the meeting participants looked around the virtual model, motion tracking cameras captured their every movement and adapted the display perspective on the Powerwall to the viewers‘ angle of vision. In this way, planners and users could explore, record and optimise the building. Before it was actually built, they already “knew” it. Factors such as room sizes, circulation routes, the arrangement of windows and others could thus be adapted to their needs.

Another example is a new building on the Boskalis campus in Papendrecht, the Netherlands. For “Building 6”, designed by the architectural firm OPL. Visser & Smit Bouw B.V. and electrotechnically equipped by HOMIJ Technische Installaties, Hager supplied various main and sub-distribution boards as well as busbar trunking. “In close cooperation with HOMIJ Technische Installaties, we determined where the busbar trunking had to find its place,” explains Martwin de Man, Project Manager at Hager. “We then worked out the complete busbar system in 3D/BIM and incorporated it into the architectural model to avoid delays and downtime costs on site.”

Behind the electrical installtion at Boskalis, a distribution panel with busbar running in it.

This process will help electrical tradesmen to save time during installation and maintenance, to plan more precisely and to generate better results.

Frédéric Bastin

The status quo

A huge advantage of BIM models is their enormous level of detail; a huge amount of data and information converges in a single software solution for Building Information Modeling. The data fed into the system contains the most precise details of production and construction, right down to the smallest connections.

Because BIM models consist of many composite digital mirror images, they also present an enormous challenge. For a realistic digital mirror of a building, you have to be able to digitally represent all its materials, components and dimensions. This means you need complete, comparable and linkable data for all of them.

“At the moment, the industry is still at the very beginning here,” says Valerian Timm, BIM expert at Hager Germany. “Before we can replicate complete construction projects, manufacturers and trades must first check and complete their entire databases.” Our “One Spot” team is currently working on this and will standardise and restructure all product data by 2022. At the same time, Frédéric Bastin‘s team is investigating the needs of electrical planners, tradesmen and architects in order to consistently tailor Hager Group‘s BIM solutions to their requirements.

The next step is to supplement the product data with so-called “logics”, which means that a switch cabinet data record, for example, will automatically “know” that a corresponding base also belongs to the switch cabinet. If an electrical planner uses it in their BIM project planning, the base is automatically added.

The Boskalis Papendrecht campus (Netherlands).

However, this creates a second problem. The more detailed the BIM models, the greater the volume of data that the computers of the trades involved have to cope with. Today‘s computers are simply overwhelmed with these mountains of data. “The data of a simple parapet channel alone get to 200 MB,” says Valerian Timm, “to be able to call up and process the entire building, each trade involved would need enormous computing power if their computers were not to crash constantly.

At present, BIM models are therefore mostly only used for the simplest application, collision planning. For the use of complex BIM models, new solutions are still needed in many cases.

The virtual future

However, the BIM experts at Hager Group see the potential as very promising. If BIM models become increasingly widespread in the second half of this decade, specialist tradesmen could simulate their planned installation completely virtually and check whether it is safe and efficient. During maintenance work, they could use virtual reality glasses to display the complete electrical installation on site. And the more components are linked with “Internet of Things” (IoT) apps, the more data such as the current performance of a component, performance history and maintenance intervals can be called up. Real estate and its electrical installations would thus become transparent entities that are much easier to maintain.

“We see BIM as a process with which we support our customers on their digital journey,” explains Frédéric Bastin. This process will, for example, help electrical tradesmen to save time during installation and maintenance, to plan more precisely and to generate better results.

Soon, having to tear out a brand new cable duct might hopefully become a distant memory.

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