Demystifying Digital Twins in Construction



The concept of Digital Twins has been a buzzword for some time now in the construction industry. But what does it truly mean, and how can it revolutionise the way we approach construction? We recently invited some experts to shed light on these questions and more in one of our Positive Impact Panel sessions, here are the key takeaways:  

Defining Digital Twins 

The panellists emphasised the importance of clear and purpose-driven approach to defining digital twins. However, they took care to highlight the need for a balance between establishing standards and fostering innovation. Over-standardisation at this nascent stage could potentially hinder the evolution of Digital Twins in the Build Environment.  

Su Butcher provided a definition from the AMRC that proved especially useful: “A live digital coupling of the state of a physical asset or process to a virtual representation with a functional output.” The panel also stressed the value of learning from sectors like manufacturing, which are ahead in the standardisation process.  

Drivers and Challenges 

Safety, efficiency, and sustainability emerged as the primary drivers for the adoption of Digital Twins. Yet, its essential to manage expectations and not anticipate these outcomes immediately. The panellists underscored the significance of securing small, interconnected wins to prove viability before pursuing more expansive goals. Simon Navin emphasised the intrinsic worth in understanding the interplay between Digital Twins and their environment, suggesting that showcasing this connection could be pivotal for success. Additionally, Henry points out the potential for Digital Twins to yield unforeseen circumstances. 

However, the journey is not without challenges. The panel delved into the complexities surrounding issues with procurement, lack of understanding, data shortages, and the challenge of integrating different domains. Emilia Cardamone indicates a useful avenue for progress to be through upskilling and collaboration. By enhancing the skills set of industry professionals and fostering a collaborative environment, the construction sector can draw invaluable lessons from other industries that have successfully navigated similar challenges, thereby accelerating the adoption and optimisation of Digital Twins. 

Sustainability and Digital Twins 

Digital Twins are emerging as transformative tools in the realm of sustainable construction. Their ability to create a real-time digital representation of physical assets means they can be instrumental in resource management, ensuring optimal utilisation and minimising wastage. For instance, material waste, a longstanding challenge of the construction industry, can be significantly reduced by leveraging the insights provided by these digital counterparts. Su Butcher shed light on another critical issue: the performance gap in buildings. This refers to the disparity between a building’s anticipated and actual performance. By utilising digital twins, stakeholders can continuously monitor and adjust building parameters, ensuring buildings perform optimally and efficiently over time.  

The discussion also ventured into the complex domain of data sharing and its governance. In the age of information, the seamless exchange of data is crucial for the effective functioning of tools like Digital Twins. Yet, challenges related to data security, integrity, and accessibility arise. Emilia Cardamone emphasised that effective data governance is not just a procedural necessity; it’s the key to harnessing the full potential of digital twins in the future, ensuring they serve as transformative tools in the industry. Proper governance ensures data integrity, security, and accessibility: all of which are fundamental for the successful deployment and utility of digital twins. 

Looking Ahead 

As the industry looks to the future, adopting an innovation mindset is crucial. Henry Fenby-Taylor emphasised the importance of starting small with data strategies and engaging in conversations at all levels. Su Butcher brought attention to the Building Safety Act and the need for a truly digitised ‘golden thread’ for building safety.  

The consensus amongst the panellists was that focus should be on tangible, real-world applications of Digital Twins. The industry needs to delve into practical use cases that demonstrate the tangible benefits of these digital counterparts. Collaboration emerged as a recurring theme, emphasising the need for collective efforts in addressing the multifaceted challenges the industry faces. Henry Fenby-Taylor’s conclusion resonated with this sentiment, emphasising that the complexities inherent in the construction sector necessitate collaborative problem-solving. These problems cannot be solved alone. 

A Special Thanks to the Panellists 

We extend our gratitude to the insight provided by each of the panellists: 

Henry Fenby-Taylor – CEO of Athenophilia   
Emilia Cardamone – Associate Director of Digital at Turner and Townsend  
Simon Navin – Geospatial Services Lead at Jacobs  
Su Butcher – Director at Just Practising 

Explore our Positive Impact Panel series of events and catch up on the recordings of this and other previous panel sessions.

Bryn Medd-Sygrove
Innovation Researcher