To reduce its carbon footprint, a major oil and gas firm may want to minimise the number of helicopter flights needed to an offshore installation to inspect corrosion levels on submerged pipes.

In this theoretical case, use of remotely piloted drones to capture imagery may not be possible.

Instead, they would pull together input from sensors, vendor equipment and data from sonic measures of corrosion levels in pipes and use a digital twin to visualise this in a 3D canvas on the web. Viewing the data in the context of a “living” 3D model rather than looking at data in a spreadsheet would provide a more intuitive means through which to undertake analysis.

This is one example of what Bhupinder Singh, chief product officer at engineering software provider Bentley Systems, says demonstrates the value of open digital twins.

A digital twin is a digital representation of a physical asset. This could be a building, a piece of infrastructure, or an entire precinct or city.

Digital twins are open where they can accept data from disparate sources in multiple formats and connect these in a meaningful way.

To illustrate, Singh cites the example of a warehouse in Melbourne’s Altona which is operated by Toll Holdings on an exclusive basis for its customer Nike. Courtesy of measures such as upgrades to its conveyor system and retrofitting lights, the warehouse became the first building in Australia to achieve whole-of-building carbon neutral status under the National Carbon Offset Standard.

Say Toll wished to implement a digital twin to deliver greater insight about its conveyor system. Problems could arise, Singh says, whereby suppliers of conveyors, lighting, HVAC and other areas each offer digital solutions on their own platform but none talk to each other in a coordinated fashion. To drive overall insights about conveyor performance, data instead needs to be extractable from each source and able to be analysed in a meaningful way.

To achieve this openness, Singh says three things are necessary:

  • Data must be readable and understandable regardless of its format and the application from which it originates.
  • Data must be connected and accessible irrespective of whether it lives in SharePoint, document management systems or databases
  • Asset owners must be able to apply their own taxonomy against which they prefer to run features such as machine learning algorithms.

As well, the digital twin must be living rather than static and must be able to provide real-time information about the current state of the asset along with the ability to track changes over time.

According to Bhupinder, several other examples demonstrate the benefits of open digital twins.

In Australia, Telstra is using software provided by Bentley to convert data captured through drone images, point clouds and thermal data to produce meshes which show the state of its transmission towers from a corrosion viewpoint and enable it to assess the structural integrity of its towers prior to adding new equipment needed to complete its 5G rollout. By applying machine learning, furthermore, Telstra are able to track the level of corrosion over time and predict the likely rate of deterioration of their asset.

All this, the company estimates, will reduce the number of costly and dangerous tower climbs it needs to perform by up to 60 percent.

In Singapore, Microsoft built a digital twin around Bentley’s OpenCities Planner tool and its own Azure Cloud platform using equipment from Schneider Electric at its regional headquarters at Frasers Tower in Singapore. Data from 179 Bluetooth beacons in meeting rooms and 900 sensors in regard to lighting, air quality and temperature provided by Schneider generate almost 2,100 data points which are connected to a Microsoft Azure cloud and feed into a dashboard from where the company can monitor facilities usage, energy and utilities and can optimise the space usage by making lighting and air-conditioning adjustments.

Through this – and also potentially using the sensors to monitor carbon dioxide levels which impact work performance, neural activity, noise levels and energy usage – Microsoft believes it could achieve energy cost savings of up to 25 percent.

Open digital twins can also be used during construction. When Shell built a polyethene plant on the outskirts of a river in Midwestern Pennsylvania, they used a digital twin to capture imagery from weekly drone flights around the site and access this via a touchscreen on a trailer. This serves as a single source of truth for lookahead and retrospective progress analysis, which helps to optimise collaboration and decision making between the client and the engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) contractors.   The results are shared among 30 plus companies, a community of 1,000 plus end users across construction, procurement, safety, quality, engineering, and project management teams.  The digital twin is used to monitor the soil erosion, manage inventory, improve emergency response effectiveness, and identify hazards.

In one specific example, the digital twin was used to measure the amount of backfill needed along with stockpile volumes, distances, slopes, and available laydown area. This resulted in an eight-fold reduction in the amount of time the construction engineers spent analyzing progress on the backfill.

As the plant is being constructed, they are also able to compare the as-built against the original design to identify variations. This will enable them to hand over a true as built model to operations and maintenance.

As the benefits of open digital twins become apparent, Singh says software providers are improving their offerings. Speaking particularly about Bentley, he says the company offers a series of native cloud services which are able to aggregate extremely large volumes of detailed information from different BIM, CAD and GIS systems, facilitate updating and tracking of data over time and provide asset owners with scalable views of the data through 3D representations or 4D representations over the web, enabling them to analyse changes over time.

Going forward, he says arguably the most far-reaching construct of open digital twins could be the enabling of new commercial models whereby vendors offer complete end-to-end solutions. Instead, of simply supplying cooling systems, for example, companies such as Schneider Electric or Siemens could instead offer ‘comfort as a service’ and provide installation, maintenance and remote monitoring as a holistic service for which building owners would pay a monthly charge.

As technology continues to evolve, the value of digital twins continues to grow.

To unlock true value from this, digital solutions must facilitate greater openness through data which is readable regardless of its format, accessible irrespective of where it resides and flexible in how it enables asset owners to apply their preferred means by which to name and classify items for their own purposes.