Our Journey with Point Clouds, BIM, IOT & Digital Twins

Digital twins provide a digital uplift for your entire asset portfolio

A Use Case

Imagine walking into a building, as a facilities manager, building operator, tenant, occupier, guest or service contractor…
…simply scanning your smart phone around the room…
…to visual essential data (based on your role) like potential safety hazards, required safety procedures, detailed service history, documentation, operating procedures,  and even the physical dimensions, to millimeter accuracy, of what’s directly in front of you…
…quickly reviewing specifications and procedures before identifying and completing changes to be made…
..updating service records, and costs, while synchronizing the physical asset and it’s digital twin, in real-time as you step away from the space or equipment…
…to deliver fully documented, high performance, energy-efficient, sustainable buildings, measured and managed effortlessly from anywhere.     

Our Journey

Eight years ago, our dedicated BuiltSpace team  set out to reimagine how buildings are operated and maintained.   We wanted to  create a “single source of truth” for equipment, spaces, systems, service history, energy data and related documentation.   At the time we had never heard of terms like “the internet of things” or “digital twins”.    

Our vision; to develop a robust, scalable, and secure, change management platform capable of managing  energy efficiency processes across millions of buildings.   Along the journey we discovered that our solution, intrinsically delivers service and administrative savings as well, and these measurable savings are available across entire facilities portfolios, without major capital investment, and applicable to any asset class, age, or application.  

Along the way, we’ve implemented four core technologies that may be critical to delivering this vision at scale.  Here’s a little of what we found:

Clash detection with a point cloud overlaid on BIM

BIM & LIDAR Point Clouds

In a joint research project with the University of British Columbia, in 2014-2015, we considered the use of BIM and point clouds, as the core of our digital twin.

A BIM, or building information model, is a detailed 3 dimensional model, usually built during the design & construction process.   Architectural design and mechanical systems designs are often independently developed, making clash detection a strong use case.  A clash happens when mechanical equipment specified fails to fit in the space provided by the architect.

We found that, during design and construction, lots of changes happen, and often the BIM doesn’t get updated.  This problem extends through the full lifecycle.

Maintaining synchronization between the physical asset and it’s own digital twin is essential.

We also found that relatively few construction projects using BIM are fully documented through commissioning, to provide true a “as-built” BIM.    Often, the problem is lack of access to the BIM by the people that are doing the work.   We are seeing some adoption of BuiltSpace as a field commissioning solution, helping to resolve this problem.  Two way synchronization between a BIM and BuiltSpace was demonstrated, but found to be of limited value.

LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is already widely used to create point clouds, highly detailed three dimensional terrestrial maps or interior images of buildings.  Much of the earth’s surface has already been mapped by aerial LIDAR imaging, with accuracy that enables the model to capture individual overhead power lines entering home.   This same technology provides the “eyes” for self driving cars.   In-building LIDAR is common as well.

The above image displays a LIDAR point cloud overlaid on a BIM of a mechanical room, displaying geospatial differences between design and as-built by color code.  Neither the available BIM nor the point cloud were especially useful as a base for our digital twin of this building.

Many people confuse a three dimensional point cloud or BIM with a digital twin (see below).  A point cloud is a geospatial snapshot at a point in time, lacking any equipment specifications, energy/operating data, or service detail required to operate and maintain individual assets.

A 3-D model, BIM or point cloud, is optional, especially if the digital twin will primarily be accessed by mobile device.

The Internet of Things (IOT)

Building automation systems and IOT devices within buildings need to be managed, secured, and maintained.   Building asset registers that once held only physical equipment now need to include both physical and virtual assets.    A vast number of devices are already out there, rarely updated, and often vulnerable to attack.    Vulnerable systems need to be secured, behind enterprise firewalls, yet the data made available for business process integration.    The digital twin provides this capability, to create end-to-end integrated solutions, able to act on data from field IoT devices, or faults raised by building automation systems or energy analytics programs.

A secure digital twin provides the collaboration platform and integrated business processes to protect enterprises, keeping command and control systems, and financial systems safely behind enterprise firewalls.

The Digital Twin

The digital twin is core technology enabling proactive, measurable, asset-centric service processes.

To be useful, digital twins  must be economically deployed, easy to use, and scalable across every maintainable asset, system and process.  They needn’t incorporate smart building data or 3-D geospatial data, but should capture accurate and detailed asset and service data required to efficiently operate and maintain equipment, systems and entire buildings.   The digital twin needs to be organizationally and user aware, with certain data only available to an individual organization or user.

The essential elements of a digital twin are:

  • The Data Model –  a model that brings all the key data together into a single navigable digital building or system
  • Integrated Service Processes – the ability to complete service interventions on specific assets and record site, condition and service details…recording change…within the asset data model
  • A Secure Integration & Collaboration Platform – enabling data to be shared across stakeholder organizations, while protecting sensitive enterprise financial and command/control systems.

Digital twins are well proven in the field.  We have seen operational efficiency improvements of 50-70% for certain service and maintenance operations, especially when maintaining very large, complex systems.  Our customers have reported savings of up to 50% on preventative maintenance activities.

If you would like help with some hard numbers, please feel free to reach out.



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