As technology continues to advance, the virtual world is becoming more detailed and powerful. When we can't visit spaces in real life, virtual reality has become a substitute for travel and entertainment. But virtual technology is about far more than just staving off boredom. It can be a way to replicate what's going on in the real world and enhance the power and value of any investment. The construction of what is known as a digital twin can be used to gather information about a single mechanism, physical object, or a whole fleet of assets (like airplanes or trucks).
When used in commercial real estate, a digital twin is essentially a virtual copy of a building. It generally lives inside a software program but is frequently updated with information from the physical asset itself. The virtual representation is created to be identical in every way except one: It doesn't exist in the physical world.
How does the creation of digital twins enhance property marketing?
A digital twin model can have a wide variety of uses, but one of the most common is that it is an attractive marketing tool to attract investors, tenants, or owners (like a commercial version of a residential 3D tour). Cushman & Wakefield (NYSE: CWK) recently partnered with Matterport to offer 3D scans to their clients.
These scans will be used to create a dimensionally accurate digital representation that can be used in marketing to prospective tenants. The Matterport experience creates a "dollhouse view" that allows viewers to tour inside the property, digitally measure the virtual space, and get a deeper sense of the property.
However, the most important use of digital twin technology may be its value in the ongoing maintenance of a building. The digital replica can allow plant operators to know what needs to be fixed without even touring the building itself.
How is a digital twin created?
Digital twins like Matterport scans are generally made through a special camera that creates a 3D model. The creation of a complete digital twin is often more complicated and involves multiple sources.
In order to be truly useful, a digital twin must be as accurate as possible. This means that it has to contain the same information that is generated from the building itself. Depending on the digital twin, it integrates data from a variety of sources. The architectural, mechanical, and electrical drawings along with floor plans help build the foundation of the twin. Then additional information is layered in, including mechanical equipment schedules, power meter information, and occupancy. This is often done using building information modeling software.
A digital twin can also be updated frequently with a variety of data that is generally gathered through the use of sensors. This can be done through connecting meters and monitors throughout the building that constantly feed sensor data to the simulation model so it updates in real time, giving the owners and managers actionable insight on how its physical counterpart is performing. As the building acquires new equipment and devices connected to the Internet of Things, IoT sensors become part of the digital replica.
The data the virtual model uses can also come from outside of the physical twin. Data on weather, traffic, and other public information can also be used to provide not only a complete picture of the property but also to create a simulation of the environment it sits in within the real world.
It can take time to set up a complete system. Bractlet, a startup that creates digital energy twins, says their process takes 60 to 90 days. However, once set up, data becomes actionable within as little as two weeks.
A digital twin can yield cost and energy savings
One important use of digital twins like the ones created by Bractlet is energy or maintenance savings. A digital energy twin can help property owners make sure that the building is behaving the way it should be and increase operational efficiency. It also can help identify ways to save energy. A digital energy twin can serve as a lab where things can be tested out on the twin in simulation before they're implemented in real life.
Another important feature of a digital twin is diagnostics and predictive maintenance. The intricate system of meters and monitors helps home in on problems more quickly and solve them more efficiently. If there is an equipment malfunction or something is underperforming, it's possible to find it more quickly. A study from General Electric (NYSE: GE) found that reactive maintenance was reduced by 40% in less than one year.
As buildings use digital twins, a compounding effect takes place. Buildings are able to benchmark against each other for energy efficiency and other metrics. While this may first only benefit landlords, it may end up benefiting a city as a whole.
What are the pros and cons of using digital twins?
Having a virtual replica of a physical space can provide a lot of operational data, but there are some downsides. A complete digital twin will need monitors and meters installed in the physical entity in order to be truly useful. This can be a complicated process and can add thousands of dollars to a building's budget for capital expenditures. It may also take some education to be able to fully understand the analytics that the digital model is generating.