Digital twins

In the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire – the UK’s greatest loss of life in a building fire in 100 years – the UK Government requested Dame Judith Hackitt to review the UK Building Regulations and Fire Safety. From her damning report, one of the priority conclusions were that to ensure future building safety a “Golden Thread of information” should be shared and accessible to all that care for and live in the building, Mark Williams, Managing Director of TwinnedIt explores a solution.

Across the world high-rise and skyscraper residential and commercial buildings are home to millions of people. But how the building was built, maintained and managed is not bought together for all to ensure its safety. For example, in 2019 the Australian state of Victoria – the same banned cladding that was on the Grenfell Tower – still remained on approximately 800-1200 buildings, including several hospitals. In the US between 2009 and 2013 there were an average of 14,500 fires per year in high-rise buildings. These fires caused an annual average of 40 civilian fire deaths, 520 civilian fire injuries and $154 million in direct property damage.

There are 12,500+ residential tower blocks – buildings over 18 metres tall – in England alone today and up until now there was no one solution that would deliver accessible and up-to-date digital datasets of high-rise and high-risk buildings for all to access.

If unresolved, the residents of high rise and multi-tenanted buildings across the UK and beyond, from every socioeconomic class, would live in fear of a repeat of the failings and fate the residents of the Grenfell Tower experienced.

Digital twins

In the development of products, the use of 3D CAD (Computer Aided Design) modelling has been used for nearly 30 years now. As well as the 3D virtual model of a product, all of the information about each part that makes up the product – for example: materials, finishes, supplier – was also included.

From a car to a toaster – all are designed and built in a virtual three-dimensional world with all of the relevant information about each element of the product being embedded in the dataset. No matter who manufactured each part of the product, all came into one place so the final virtual product could be analysed and checked for compliance – before physical manufacture. 

In the construction sector Building Information Modelling (BIM) has been slowly adopted by the global construction sector over the last 15 years. But unlike the product development defined above – in the design and construction of a building many stakeholders use BIM for their own requirements, but very rarely does the development of a building be co-ordinated by all stakeholders in the design and development of a building, in one shared digital place.

A building is a product too and will arguably last a lot longer in our world than the car or the toaster. The organisations that are part of the design and construction process physically hand over a myriad of information about the building to the end client (the owner/operator of the building), but this may not include a final “as built” dataset. 

In today’s connected digital world, there should be a digital and physical version of large scale buildings. In the case of a new building – the construction phase of a building may only be 2-5% of the building’s life. In the case of buildings that have already been built – is there an accurate digital dataset that defines the building today? To enable the owner/operator to manage and share all of the data they should digitally have to, not only the team that look after it but also, the residents, regulator and the emergency services – a digital twin needs to exist and be maintained. Remember the “Golden Thread of Information” Dame Judith Hackett mentioned in her report – this is where it starts.

Having a digital twin of a high rise and high risk building would bring clarity to the building’s owner/operator, the emergency services, the government regulator and as important – the residents. From this one digital place all could see everything they need to ensure the building and its residents are being kept safe.

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