Insights on GIS Enabling Digital Twins in AEC

Esri discussion with Steven Karan, GHD; George Floros, Skanska Infrastructure; John Turner, Gafcon; and Mike Krois, Vail Resorts

Esri recently met with leaders from four companies to talk about the importance of digital twins and their impact on the built and natural world. The firms are involved in the planning, engineering, building, and operating of facilities and infrastructure around the globe. They are delivering geographic information system (GIS)-based digital twins ranging from shipping ports and high-speed rail to water distribution and snowmaking systems of the world’s greatest winter-sports venues.

In our conversation, we reflected on how the concept of a digital twin goes back to the 1960s, perhaps earlier. It was used by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for the Apollo missions and more recently for the Mars Rover missions. Here on Earth, digital twins have been used by automobile manufacturers for decades. From the factory itself to the autos rolling off the assembly lines, the automotive industry’s use of digital twins has delivered increased equipment utilization and reduced manufacturing costs by double-digits.

The leaders from the firms represented in the conversation shared their thoughts on the definition of digital twin in their time-constrained, project-based work. In construction projects, a digital twin is a combination of data from the 2D drawings, the 3D models, and all the relevant technical information used to describe the built project, delivering value for the life of the project. But in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industries a digital twin is more than just a record of the built condition. The digital twin captures behaviors and current conditions and can be used to control the physical, built product.

The AEC project digital twin, presented in dashboard views and shared with a range of stakeholders, is connected to a range of sensors and data collectors measuring the physical building itself. The engineering specifications, construction plans, and lidar scans of the project are one part of the digital twin. The ability to measure performance data, thus creating a complete historical, current, and predictive digital representation to support the life cycle of the building, is perhaps the most important aspect of digital twins.

During the discussion, the concept of location, logistics, and the importance of GIS in digital twins was explored. With challenges as complex as coordinating trains, trucks, and all the dynamic assets of a rail yard, GIS has proven to be the uniquely capable connector and manager of data and systems. When long-term asset management is a project consideration, GIS is a proven solution for these companies, and GIS as the basis of the digital twin simplifies the challenges of communication, collaboration, and the optimization of infrastructure.

The participants in the discussion represent firms that are years into executing digital project delivery, having made digital twins their core strategy for differentiation. These organizations have created in-house teams composed of data scientists, design thinkers, digital consultants, and technology project managers. As part of the process of planning, designing, and building their clients’ projects, the companies are delivering and benefiting from digital twins.

Learn more by joining us at our upcoming webinar on March 2 at 2pm ET.

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