Digital Twins – are we there yet?

Last week, SydBIM held one of its recurrent presentation events in Sydney titled: “A journey of Collaborative Innovation”. The location was great: Frank Ghery’s “Dr Chak Chau” Builing; hosted by the ever-present Stephan Langella, David Foley and Scott Beazley, the event kept a similar format from previous versions, but this time the event had a innovative twist by introducing the concept of “Digital Twins”

The Digital Twin concept

In short, Digital Twins can be easily understood as digital models that are live, dynamic and connected to real life assets relying heavily in connectivity and particularly the Internet of Things [IoT].

The concept itself is not new, according to several publications* the idea had been used since the 60’s by NASA in order to run simulations for the U.S space program. In more recent years, according to Innovation enterprise, the same concept was brought again by Michael Grieves at the University of Michigan in 2002, where it was referred to it as “Mirrored Spaces Model” for the Manufacturing industry.

In our space- the AEC industry – a similar concept of “Smart Buildings” has been around for more than ten years and it generally refers to network-enabled building management systems that help automate the building regular operations. But Smart Buildings and Digital Twins are not the same. Digital Twins assumes the operational automation, but also extends the concept to the early stages of  Design and Construction as well as the continuous replacement and reconfiguration of the building during its life cycle. That is: through digital interfaces you can see the building been designed, built, managed, controlled and reacting live, in a multi-directional connected environment.

During the presentations in SydBIM Nov 2018, Shen Chiu , Daniel Kalnins and Ryan Hanlen from Investa Group, Ridley & Willow and Built exposed in great detail the implementation of this concept in design, construction and management of the Barrack Place building. Using the Willow digital Twin Platform, backed by Microsoft Azure, the presentations showcased how the technology was implemented to make it among the first buildings in Australia to take full advantage if the available technology.

*As an update, Daniel K, has kindly made me aware of Willow’s Digital Twin platform architecture. More on that below.*

The technology behind the concept

As mentioned before, Digital Twins are powered by the Internet of Things, but also by the ubiquitous connectivity of internet, Cloud Computing, Digital Assets, 3D Scanning, and the advancements in AI, Machine Learning and Robotization of the construction industry.

Let’s take a quick look at the ready available technology out in the market.

Bentley’s iTwin

iTwin Services image taken from Bnltey’s public webiste. Nov 2018

One of the early ready to use Digital Twin implementations for AEC is Bentley’s iTwin, a cloud service available to ProjectWise and AssetWise users. This is very recent, and was just announced by Bentley in London, U.K. in October 16 2018. For more information on those, please follow the links above.

Microsoft Azure’s Digital Twins

Azure’s Digital Twins service introduction image as appears in website. Nov 2018

Azure Digital Twins is a platform that operates on top of the existing well established IoT service (internet of things). This is platform showcased at SydBIM Nov 2018: the Barracks Place building. In the presentation a tailored solution for Willow / Thyssenkrupp was demonstrated.

In case you’re still curious, I’ve linked here a video from Microsoft’s youtube channel and already skipped up to the portion where they explain thei Digital Twin Solution.

RIB group’s MTWO

RIB’s MTWO Logo as appears at RIB’s website. Nov 2018

Claiming to be the number one vertical Cloud specifically tailored to the construction and real estate industries, MTWO actually uses Azure’s cloud platform, and offers a direct interface to the services in a way that is customized for AEC and Real Estate. More on RIB’s MTWO here.

Willow Digital Twin Platform

Also backed by Microsoft’s Azure, this platform was used in the Barracks Place project as explained in the presentations 

Willow Platform Architecture
Short case study from Willow’s vimeo channel


In this large scheme of things, BIM and the creation of Digital Assets by Architects and Engineers in the form of Building Information Models becomes even more relevant in order to future-proof our practice and remain current in the market. And rather than staying siloed and detached from the overall process, the role of the Designer has to adapt to the requirements of this highly connected and digitalised era. Being capable of delivering good looking PDFs and DWGs at present moment is no guarantee of success in the market that is ahead of us.