Digital Twins in Heavy Civil Construction

In an earlier post, we discussed some of the benefits of using a digital twin as a virtual representation of an earthmoving project. Digital twins transform the way a project can be visualized, viewed, and understood, delivering value to everyone involved, from owner to foreman.

Read on to learn more about how digital twins are revolutionizing heavy civil construction.

(Re)Introduction to Digital Twins

In heavy civil construction, a digital twin is a highly detailed and accurate virtual representation of a physical project or jobsite. A digital twin can be used to visualize a jobsite, model project activities in advance, improve collaboration between project stakeholders, optimize the project schedule, and simulate physical environments or project activities in a digital environment. 

Creating and using a digital twin requires data about the physical environment it mirrors. Digital twin software consumes data from drone surveys, design files, machines, and sensors to create a digital model of the physical jobsite. As a project progresses, new data is uploaded to the digital model, allowing companies to understand progress on the jobsite through the digital twin, from anywhere. 

Benefits of Digital Twins in Heavy Construction

Digital twins provide numerous benefits to construction companies. They can help contractors visualize earth movement, calculate quantities, see or share progress from anywhere, and enhance communication between field, office, and other stakeholders. A digital twin is a shared view of where a project stands, which can be invaluable on complex projects, jobs involving a large site or large number of people, and any time something goes wrong, or changes made. . We'll focus on several of these benefits in the rest of this post. 

A Single Source of Truth

Even with all the design, communication, project management, and other tools available in the construction industry, different stakeholders often have different perspectives on a project. Where are we? The owner has an opinion, the general contractor has an opinion, and you have your view of project progress; but do they all match conditions or have the same information as the basis for their perspective? 

Historically, there has not been a single source of truth or one data source about a project's progress. A digital twin changes that because it is the connector of all things data about a project. Taking all the current data about a project into a digital twin provides the visual answer stakeholders are looking for, and usually without the time investment of an all-hands site visit or multiple virtual meetings. This visual perspective can be created before a project starts, updated frequently during construction progress, and after substantial completion. 

Considerable time is often lost searching for project answers while reviewing a design mistake/change review, updating a schedule, confirming change order quantities, or verifying billing amounts. Answers for these types of questions or situations can come from the digital twin quickly & easily. As a single source of truth that can be relied on for project accuracy, the digital twin brings collaborative perspectives on a project to the delivery team as a whole, reducing the risk of misunderstanding and conflicts. 

Project Visibility for Everyone Involved

Are we there yet? Construction projects are still largely viewed through the 2D lens of progress communication; pictures, spreadsheets, daily logs or diaries, drone photos, and project schedules are common forms today of depicting the status of a project. A digital twin provides 3D answers to frequent questions on a project, such as: 

  • How much dirt is left to be moved to be on grade?
  • Is the site balancing?
  • Are the cut/fill projections accurate?
  • Is this schedule realistic?
  • What should we have billed for?

If you've ever asked or been asked these types of questions, a digital twin would be a useful information tool for you and your company.

This is not to say that the traditional methods should be discounted, but that their value increases when placed next to the digital twin. The project schedule is more informative because it is placed alongside a digital twin just like a picture of a project has more context when you understand where that picture came from through the lens of a digital twin. A highly accurate digital model is the best way to communicate and understand across all organizational levels the status or state of a project.  

Greater Operational Efficiency

Heavy civil contractors still rely on institutional knowledge on how to plan, deliver, and finish a project. This institutional knowledge has been developed and refined through the experiences of individuals delivering numerous similar projects including labor, equipment, and planning. This has been a 2D process historically. The digital twin is a powerful 3D tool that promotes understanding and insight into a project and even the most seasoned project delivery professionals can benefit from a digital model that receives continuous or automatic data updates. The current data updated model is a new perspective on what is achieved, not addressed, or doesn't look right when compared to a paper drawing. Insight and decisions into project progression, staffing, and equipment resources can be more precisely allocated after reviewing the up-to-date digital twin.  

Furthermore, the digital model provides a great visual aid on projects that less experienced individuals such as newly minted superintendents, project engineers, or even equipment managers can benefit from. A 3D view provides context on a finished project and knowing what a project is supposed to look like at completion enhances decisions during the build. The information captured in the digital twin can lead to fewer resources being deployed or requested because of knowledge gained from the digital model. 

Analysis and Validation of Designs

It is not unusual for a project start to be delayed due to numerous design changes requiring further analysis by all parties. These revisions take time to understand and incorporate into the project scope of work, price, and schedule. It is not uncommon for an owner to authorize project start on non-IFC plan sets to overcome design delays that affect their project financial carrying costs or income projections. In short, they want to start as soon as possible. 

Correspondingly, there is financial risk for all parties undertaking the project at this point. A digital twin can help reduce this drag on project start & completion while reducing risk for everyone. A digital model can provide a more comprehensive view into the overall scope of work & can quickly allow for different design scenarios or project requirements to be evaluated for cost/effect on schedule with minimal effort due to the inherent manipulation that a 3D model can be subjected to. A three-dimensional digital twin can be a tool for making design decisions quicker by improving design validation & assumptions during construction and any changes in scope due to project changes or unknown conditions. 

Building a Digital Twin with Smart Construction

Heavy civil contractors need a tool that allows for the creation of a digital twin model from initial design drawings and pre-construction drone surveys or topographical models that can quickly be changed with new data or revised drawings. Our Smart Construction Dashboard solution helps contractors create 3D digital twins quickly and easily, allowing for better communication of construction plans and schedules with everyone involved throughout the lifecycle of a project. Smart Construction Dashboard can build a pre-construction model quickly with a simple upload of design files. It can overlay drone survey as-built data to help you track progress from day-to-day or week-to-week. It can quickly display new design changes or surface models, and be that one trusted source of answers for everyone invested in a project outcome. 

Reach out to learn more about Smart Construction Dashboard and the benefits digital twins can have in your business.

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