Over the last 15 years or so, the growing development of the Internet of Things (IoT) has pushed the concept of digital twin technology to the forefront of cloud-based storage and virtual business operations.
A digital twin is the virtual model or copy of a product, service or process, typically paired with the physical in order to facilitate a greater degree of efficiency and accuracy in systems analysis and monitoring.
In facility management, digital twin technology has been instrumental in improving the way buildings and their systems operate, as well as creating new opportunities for planning and growth. According to Information Week, the proven success predictive maintenance solutions presented by the IoT have pushed 55% of enterprises to pilot new initiatives, but a mere 4% of professionals in facility maintenance consider digital twin technology to be a vital enabler for these initiatives.
“Digital twins are becoming a business imperative, covering the entire lifecycle of an asset or process and forming the foundation for connected products and services. Companies that fail to respond will be left behind,” said Thomas Kaiser, SAP Senior Vice President of IoT.
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How Does a Digital Twin Work in Facility Management?
When used in facility management, a digital twin essentially creates a digital copy of the building’s entire infrastructure, offering a bridge between the physical and virtual. Sensors are installed with smart components to gather real-time data about the system or machine, from position to working condition. This enables facility managers to have a detailed look at the inner-workings and status of all systems throughout their building.
The digital twin of a building resides in the cloud, so that it can receive and processes all data in real-time and make that data available for analysis from any device or location, provided there is network access. FMs can then analyze the data in context for routine maintenance, service requests, requirements for repairs or replacement, and more - including opportunities to improve and/or grow.
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The level of detail and accuracy in the data supplied with a digital twin can help FMs to uncover new opportunities to transform their business. With a digital twin of a building, a facility manager is more equipped to uncover information in the virtual world that can be applied in the physical world for greater efficiency and success.
Why is Digital Twin Technology Important for Facilities Management?
For decades, facility managers have relied on paper records to keep up with their buildings’ systems and needs. However, this has presented numerous challenges since a paper record can get lost or destroyed easily, is hard to keep up-to-date, and can quickly become inaccurate or misunderstood if it is not scrupulously maintained. If a facility manager happens to retire or is unable to work for some reason, a building may lose incalculable amounts of information that the FM stored in his/her memory.
Simply put, paper records are extremely unreliable, inefficient, and present a growing liability for the facilities that are managed in this way.
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In contrast, storing all records and system data in the cloud using a digital twin presents enormous opportunity for facility managers. Not only will they have more control and maintenance capability with an accurate virtual representation of their building, but the digital twin will also help drive performance and innovation.
Digital twin technology puts monitoring, analysis and predictive capability at a facility manager’s fingertips. They can more quickly and correctly respond to outages or system failures, better maintain and update functioning systems, and use the data their digital twin gathers and analyzes to find new opportunities.
Facilities relying on a digital twin can be operated far more efficiently, and at a much lower operational cost than those still depending on paper records. The digital twin can also help companies better understand their customer needs to develop ways to improve their experience.
Ways Digital Twin Technology is Changing Facility Management
Beyond helping buildings shift to paperless to increase efficiency and reduce costs, digital twin technology offers some unique ways to revolutionize the way facilities are managed:
- Creates a working digital replica of building spaces, assets, processes and equipment
- Enables the remote operation and troubleshooting of building systems
- Improves efficiency and reduces energy waste
- Helps improve comfort and productivity for building occupants
- Empowers testing of different scenarios and variables for performance enhancement
- Enables examination of the causes of past issues or breakdowns
- Provides the opportunity to predict future performance or failures to support preventative maintenance
Perhaps the most substantial opportunity is with analyzing and projecting the best path forward for changes in facility management. Before IoT and digital twins, facility managers would have to spend countless hours weighing the costs and benefits of a change before it could be implemented or installed. They also had no real data to evaluate their chances of success; therefore, all of those hours might be wasted or worse, result in a change that caused more harm than benefit.
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With a digital twin of the building’s systems and plans, backed by highly accurate monitoring and analysis, facility managers can essentially ‘test drive’ different scenarios virtually before implementing them. This analysis can happen at a highly granular level as well, since FMs can essentially review different scenarios at any point in time along a building’s lifecycle. They are then more fully informed about the likely outcomes to a change, and can adapt their plans based on the results.
Digital twin technology enables facility managers to apply data predictively in order to look into the future to analyze the impact of their decisions before they actually make or implement them. It’s complex, and while it has been implemented in some workplaces, it’s still an extremely valuable facility management tool that many companies in this sector have yet to administer.