Kristie Pirkey

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Posts In: Construction Technologies


August 26, 2020

The Emergence of the Digital Twin for Facility Operations and Management

According to the Gartner Hype Cycle the digital twin concept is a trending technology that is being adopted by numerous industries, including manufacturing, aviation, automotive, civil infrastructure, and healthcare. However, for the commercial facility operations and management (FM) community, the concept is relatively new - but it should not be.

Building operators and managers are tasked with running safe, sustainable, and efficient buildings through the COVID-19 Pandemic and beyond. They face tight budgets, limited resources, constant regulatory monitoring and for many, are unfamiliar with advanced technologies.

Using a digital twin can be a critical and strategic step in the right direction for these teams but they just do not know where to start.

Definition and Key Benefits

“The benefits of the digital twin depend upon the level of implementation to support the challenges faced by facility operators and engineer’s day in and day out,” said Aaron Peterson, leader of VueOps, a strategic partner of DPR Construction. “One of our recent life science customers is focused on increasing its maintenance productivity. To do that, we are helping to build a solid data foundation that will lead to an understanding of how to improve their processes, increase facility up time and increase their tenant satisfaction, saving them hundreds of thousands of dollars over the lifecycle of their build.”

At first, the digital twin concept consisted of capturing information about a physical product digitally and visually. But a digital twin is not just a 3D model; it is a combination of model, product, location, performance data, and the systems they comprise. Connections between the products in a building and their digital twin are created when internet enabled sensors (installed on products) stream operating data to the twin for diagnostic analysis, visualization, and performance simulation.

A recent Arup report describes the digital twin with a five-level framework, spanning from 3D visualization to autonomous operation and control. Building operators and managers who are currently using a digital twin work within Level 1 -3. In the AEC industry, the expanded practices of incorporating data from external sources, autonomous operation, and control (Level 4 –5) is where there is opportunity to deliver even more value.

Level 1: Allows teams to virtually investigate problems quickly, identify building equipment and understand impacts on building occupants. It is a model of the products that comprise building systems and the building spaces they serve.

Level 2: Offers teams the ability to develop insight about equipment that requires frequent repair or performs sub-optimally. This information can inform fix or replace decisions and improve operational reliability and facility up time. Level 2 digital twin incorporates historical data, represented in preventive maintenance and incident response work orders from asset management systems.

Level 3: Improves collection of real time performance data about products via internet enabled sensors. It enables you to detect performance issues and compare real time data with baseline data to make changes to optimize your systems.

Level 4: Enhances your ability to optimize equipment performance by addressing how external factors affect system performance. For example, local weather, external temperatures, and insulation levels.

Level 5: The digital twin at this level can be trained to recognize the cause of issues in building performance and autonomously control and correct equipment operation using machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies.

“A digital twin helps customers improve up time of their facilities and for the people doing critical work within them,” said Andrew Arnold, Product Lead, VueOps. “With a single source of truth for all facility document, data and models, clients can find the right information and the right time, with multiple views of a building through 2D drawings, 3D models and asset registers. This critical data allows FM teams to spend less time looking for information and planning and more time addressing work orders and maintenance tasks.”

Setting Up Your Digital Twin Starts with BIM

Setting up a digital twin starts with a clear need for 3D representation of your mechanical system(s) and the spaces it serves. FM teams need to easily locate and identify products of a system in terms of the building locations, i.e., building levels, zones, and rooms.

Building Information Models (BIM) - already a part of nearly every major construction project - provide an early starting point for collecting and organizing the needed data. In some cases, they provide design information that represents the design function and occupancy requirements for rooms and spaces.

Since BIM exists before the physical building, you can use it for the digital representation of the products that will be installed in the building and associate design and functional requirements. You can also use BIM to understand how the products of a system are connected. In some cases, the BIM authoring system can define and represent building systems; in other cases, owners can collect the system data using other tools to group the members of a system.

Once teams have identified, located, and inventoried the installed products, they can build out the information needed for the digital twin as construction progresses by collecting and organizing data from project submittals and closeout, including test and balance reports, and the manufacturer’s recommended operation and maintenance procedures.

“Building a digital twin is a big endeavor,” said Aaron Peterson, VueOps. “But with managed services and the right enabling technology and platform, you can choose a hosted, custom or integrated approach to empower teams to prevent downtime, save money and take advantage of rich Building Information Modeling.”


June 11, 2020

Putting VDC to Work Beyond the Jobsite

By utilizing VDC techniques, teams can streamline facility management processes, improve operational workflows, increase efficiency, and prevent downtime.

The AEC industry can tend to focus on design and construction, but what happens at turnover has consequences for the remainder of a building’s decades-long life. Beyond the physical build, the data requirements for successful and effective operations is critical to run facilities and teams. If not prioritized, the information may be lost, or it will cost more to recover it. Turnover is more than just a transfer of information, and to do it successfully, the process starts much earlier than close out.

There has been a fundamental shift to help teams extract valuable facilities management data from design and construction and turn it into building intelligence. By utilizing Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) techniques, teams can execute strategies to keep a building’s dataset accurate to streamline facility management (FM) processes, improve operational workflows, increase efficiency, and prevent downtime.

Putting VDC to use beyond the construction site allows those responsible for maintaining the building to quickly locate themselves, see a digital view of what the final and actual design is for the space and quickly handle issues, ideally with the help of mobile software platforms.

Improving Understanding

A robust VDC program through the project lifecycle lets teams focus on critical assets that affect the lifecycle of the build, including architectural and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) systems. This strategy improves the understanding of operational needs by project teams. It identifies scope for information requirements, and improves the process for authoring, verifying, and transferring the information into your current systems – all while considering the workflows of design and construction stakeholders.

Facility managers will request maintenance manuals, warranties, parent/child relationships of equipment and more.

“The power of seeing the details of proposed work immediately, when you need it, solves for many challenges that teams on the frontlines face,” said Adam Rendek, BIM/ Engagement Manager, VueOps, one of DPR Construction’s strategic partners. “Quick, intuitive and comprehensive communication solves the ‘I need this information right now’ request that jobsites face daily.”

VueOps provides expertise in BIM-FM through a software as a service (SaaS) to help teams extract valuable facilities management data from design and construction and turn it into building intelligence.

To ensure the most benefit to operations, building owners and teams should start well before substantial completion of the build to identify and discuss clear goals for operation. Taking the data in context, teams can be organized to help maintain the continuity that is relevant to operations.

But no matter where businesses are in the design and construction process, planning and executing strategies to keep a building’s dataset accurate will directly influence cost savings and operational efficiency in the long run. It can also be done at any stage.

Moving from VDC to VueOps

With VueOps, a team of subject matter experts support owners, facility managers and key stakeholders on the design and construction journey. The goal of the effort is to improve overall data quality of the models, drawings, and documents.

VueOps connects projects documents, asset data, models, and spaces to help answer the time critical questions of “what” (assets), “where” (space, floor), and “how” (how to access and tools required.)

By leveraging VDC – which most customers are already paying for as part of construction services – with an engaged partner like VueOps, owners have the potential to get more value for their VDC dollars and ensure that critical information from design and construction is prioritized and delivered in a way they can use from day one.

When it comes to a virtual representation of the build, DPR Construction has been pushing the envelope on this for years. In Integrating Project Delivery by Martin Fischer, Howard W. Ashcaft, and DPR’s Dean Reed and Atul Khanzode, the authors highlight how buildings have become more technically complex, the regulations that need to be considered more multifaceted, and the social and business expectations and pressures more intense.

The increased technical complexity and the multifaceted regulatory constraints require the inclusion of experts that understand the specific technical systems to project teams. This increased specialization has led to fragmented project delivery, in part because the project management tools used on many projects are good at dividing the work up into chucks but less good at making sure the everyone’s work fits together. The increased business and social pressures on building performance, however, demand a strategy to overcome this fragmentation, a strategy to integrate project teams and their work. To overcome this, the project team becomes a virtual enterprise. People stop working in silos and exchange information frequently instead of periodically.

“I think everyone knows the cost of operating Buildings far exceeds the cost it took to build them,” says Hannu Lindberg, VDC leader at DPR. “The key to getting maximum value for the capital investment is streamlining the handover process from construction to operations. Managing daily operations by using BIM for FM assets created during construction provides incredible insights of the building function and its systems, unlocking the initial capital investments to be used for building operations and maintenance.”

January 14, 2020

DPR Takes the Lead in Digital Transformation

If there is one main lesson DPR has learned on its multi-decade digital transformation journey, it’s that the implementation of technology alone cannot deliver the level of results the industry has come to expect or desire. To be successful, you need to:

1) identify the problem you’re trying to solve,

2) look at process and workflow issues,

3) research and pilot digital solutions that can help, and

4) create a plan for training and scaling

According to research by the McKinsey Global Institute, digital transformation in construction can result in productivity gains of 14-15 percent and cost reductions of four to six percent.

DPR's Eric Lamb took the stage at the Autodesk Forge DevCon in Las Vegas to share lessons learned during DPR’s multi-decade digital transformation journey and how the organization continues to test, invest and scale digital solutions aimed at not only improving productivity during project delivery but also optimizing building performance throughout its lifecycle for customers.

“Driving digital transformation at DPR really means we are pushing the power of BIM data and workflow optimization to the edge of our network,” said Lamb. DPR began using BIM in the 1990s for 3D visualization and to coordinate design and production model clashes virtually, before they became problems in the field, and has progressed to a Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) process that allows for digital fabrication/prefabrication directly from the model and the creation of a digital twin that can be used for facility management.

Digital Fabrication with Digital Building Components

By digitally fabricating building components through Digital Building Components, DPR transforms design and construction BIM and CAD/CAM drawings directly into precise-to-spec digital models of the products that are installed during construction. From these models, DPR optimizes installation sequencing and product delivery logistics. This strategic sequencing approach based on prefabrication helps to build faster projects at lower cost and provides a higher level of quality.

“By leveraging our expertise as a builder and staying at the forefront of tech, we are addressing problems, updating workflows and improving productivity significantly to fix our customer’s pain points and deliver more predictable outcomes,” said Lamb.

According to Lamb, integration of every data point and detail into a 3D model allows placement with well over 99% accuracy, for a third of the cost and makes the process a lot safer.

Building the Digital Twin with VueOps

DPR has taken the model with integrated data one step further through VueOps. Utilizing the Autodesk Forge platform, VueOps creates a facility digital twin that captures and integrates FM data and turnover documents for building locations, equipment, and systems. Facility managers and operators can then manage and integrate the information with the owner’s work order and energy management systems.

VueOps helps building owners achieve their own digital transformation to more effectively operate their buildings through the collection, quality assurance, integration and visualization of building data from capital projects for FM uses. Facility up time and productivity are mission critical to revenue especially in life sciences and healthcare facilities. With VueOps, FM can now be a key strategic player in optimizing building performance. The ability to access and use the integrated data set ultimately improves the owner’s CapEx ROI and OpEx efficiency.

For example, a healthcare customer reported a late-night drain/waste line leak that impacted a first-floor cafeteria in a hospital. The leak occurred in a 2h rated vertical shaft. To contain the problem, the facility engineers located the control valve for the line within one hour using the BIM. The valve was only accessible from an operating room (OR), two floors above, that normally generated revenue of $10k/minute. Engineers were able to get the OR and cafeteria up and running before 7am the next morning, with no loss of uptime. In contrast, a similar incident at a different healthcare provider that had no model to facilitate rapid containment and repair, incurred over $20M in down time and repair costs.

This customizable digital solution helps building owners and facility managers maximize how their facility is managed after construction and throughout the entire lifecycle of a building.

By taking advantage of the latest in data management and visualization, VueOps gives clients faster and more accurate information about the sources of building problems and their resolution. In addition, clients achieve faster responses to regulatory agencies, longer equipment lives, and lower energy use to power better building performance.

Digital construction technology and transformation has not been elusive for DPR, as it has arguably been for other construction companies throughout the years, due to long term commitment to innovation and investment. As DPR continues to capture the value of technology, it is making a positive difference, improving performance and delivering greater benefits.