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Béatrice Gasser
Directeur Technique et Développement Durable
Published on September 07, 2020

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Digital twins, virtual tools serving the real world

A living representation of the structure "as it works" and not just "as built", the digital twin goes beyond a simple 3D model, by dynamically simulating and predicting the different behaviours of a physical structure at all stages of its life cycle. Let’s take a closer look at this booming virtual tool.

Jumeau numérique

- Crédits : © black_mts - Thinkstock

The concept of digital modelling is now widely understood. But what about the digital twin? According to the national research group MINnD1, which has been working on structuring project data since 2014 and of which Egis is an active member, this new concept refers to the "digitised representation of a physical structure, used mainly for the needs of its operation and maintenance, and which evolves in step with the modifications, renovations, operation and maintenance of the actual structure.”

Thus, unlike the model, which only gives a static vision of the structure, the twin establishes a real-time coupling between the physical and digital worlds thanks to the permanent synchronisation of the data provided by the connected objects on the ground. Indeed, thanks to the artificial intelligence (and IoT), it enables predictive maintenance, i.e. to foresee the structural problems of a building. In the design or construction phase, this means being able to see, in a dynamic form, how the structure behaves during implementation on site (deformation, subsidence, etc.). In operational phase, the twin will also give the engineers the means to check, for example, how the building continues to live in its environment, determine the extent of renovation work, or find out what safety problems might arise in the future, so that the quality of service of the structure, but also its economic profitability, are optimised throughout its life cycle.

The necessary dialogue between BIM and GIS

For a digital twin to be effective, it is necessary to successfully combine the technical information from the digital model, essential for the design and construction of structures, and the spatial data from geographic information systems (GIS), valuable for the planning and operation of constructions and infrastructure in their environmental context. However, GIS data is applied on the scale of a city or region, whereas BIM data is related to a specific structure. Merging these two scales thus becomes the crusade of all engineers!

"BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN GIS AND BIM WILL SIGNIFICANTLY IMPROVE METHODS TO PLAN, DESIGN AND PREPARE TOMORROW'S BUILDINGS."

Why is this convergence so important? Because by centralizing data in a common digital repository in this way, we can have a much more detailed understanding of asset management, we are able to appropriately influence the location, orientation and even the construction materials of a structure and thus optimize design, speed up project validation, reduce costs and create smarter cities and resilient infrastructure.

More reliable decision-making

3D representations, immersive experiences, real-time management and monitoring of structures: all of these benefits are likely to be of interest to clients. The digital twin not only presents technical and architectural projects, but also simulates uses, flows and needs. This systemic vision means that the decision making process can be based on more reliable and better verified data, thus avoiding errors, delays, accidents and additional costs during the construction and operation phases.

With the twin, you can also reduce a project's overall carbon footprint. This is the case, for example, with the Bruneseau eco-district in the 13th arrondissement of Paris, whose entire design we are managing. Here, the twin enabled us to tweak various parameters during the design (position of the buildings, materials used, integrated energy systems) and find the best possible scenario to achieve our goal: to reduce CO2 emissions to a fifth of the Paris average.

Finally, twinning is a good way to enhance the acceptability of projects, especially through the use of virtual and augmented realities. Presenting progress visually, simulating the impacts of the work in its environment and virtually immersing the user in the future project brings about better appropriation by stakeholders; scenarios become concrete and this facilitates decision-making. In short, digital technology tends to blur the border between the virtual and the real world to serve people and their needs. This is the real added value that we are all seeking through these technological advances!

1 Modelling of Interoperable Information for Sustainable Infrastructures, a national research project coordinated by IREX.

Did you know?

Egis is one of the first engineering firms in the world capable of implementing managed and standardised BIM processes to share them with its partners and clients. By the end of 2020, 90% of our design project management will be carried out using BIM.

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