Digital twinning


Engineering companies are dependent on effective information management to control, design and build new assets such as bridges or refineries. They are expected to handover an operations ready physical asset and the required information for their customer to maintain and operate the asset.

A key facilitator to this is the creation and maintenance of a Digital Twin (or information asset) that shadows the physical asset through its lifecycle, by providing an evolving accurate virtual 3D model of the asset with all necessary data and documents provided in context. This Digital Twin is evolved through build and then kept up-to-date beyond as changes and maintenance planning is applied through its operational lifecycle.

The Digital Twin provides a complete and accurate definition of the deployed infrastructure and its hierarchy, as well as, providing easy contextual access to the kept processes and procedures needed to run the asset effectively through its operational lifecycle.

The Digital Twin is subject to management processes and tools in the same way as the physical asset. It must be planned, deployed and managed in accordance with best practice methodologies and tools. Building the Digital Twin starts as soon as possible in the project lifecycle and its content must be enhanced by all action parties including vendors in the global supply chain, throughout the project and asset operations lifecycles.

Project owners must clearly specify the expectations of contributing third parties such as engineering design offices, equipment manufacturers and construction partners. These third parties are expected to provide the required quality of information to build the Digital Twin and sustain it as changes are applied to the physical twin.

The Digital Twin has two main user stakeholders

a) the project team – tasked with designing, building and handing over the asset.

b) the operations (maintenance) team – tasked to operate the plant with all its various systems and sub-systems (including maintenance systems such as Maximo or SAP PM).

The software market contains many vendors offering ready-made solutions to help companies manage their Digital Twin in an integrated manner with their engineering and maintenance activities. Vendors include Siemans, Autodesk, Hexagon (Integraph), Cadence, Bentley, Aviva amongst others.

For project teams Digital Twins provide transparency and insights on required actions needed to address delivery risks. For asset operations they help drive optimisation and efficiency in operating the delivered asset.

Well managed Digital Twins can also help show material waste, assist with reuse of design, drive standardisation and avoid repetition of design work from project to project. Collecting all engineering and operational data centrally over time (often called the digital thread) mitigates risk of common oversights that occur when data is spread across multiple, disparate systems.

And finally, adding in models and analytics to describe the behaviour of operational assets creates the ‘brain’ of the digital twin, enabling it to predict what may occur in the future and provide proactive guidance on how to respond for the best overall outcomes.

The ‘Digital Twin’ and emerging engineering and operations digital solutions, integrated with it, also help projects to better prepare for what is next in a project or maintenance schedule by improving decision making based on Trusted Engineering Information, available globally to all participants in Asset delivery and operations.

Uptake of Digital Twin concepts and related best practices, is growing rapidly in Infrastructure projects, as a facilitator for collaboration of distributed teams, remote working and running fast changing global supply chains; all of which is needed to deliver projects at affordable prices and within stretch timeline targets.

Companies are addressing project costs by using Digital Twins to underpin flexible workflows and solutions designed to automate repetitive tasks. Sharing of Data Twins with Third Party collaborators is improving functional and commercial integration.

For Digital Twins and global delivery models to work they need high performance and cost effective datacoms that can adapt to ever changing connectivity challenges on a global scale. SD-WAN technologies such as those offered by InfoQuick are proven to support such needs on a global scale.

This article was updated on December 19, 2022

Brian has varied and extensive business experience in Utilities, Oil and Gas, SD-WAN, Software development and Computer Aided Design. Brian has a track record in CIO, programme and project management with specific expertise in application deployment (including use of Agile techniques) and related business change. He is PMP accredited and is an active member of UK Project Management Institute (PMI). He also has PMO and 10+ years of engineering information management experience.