With construction output set to grow 85 per cent over the next decade, innovation is desperately needed to lower carbon emissions and improve efficiency. Could digital twins be the answer?
Manufacturing a Tesla car might seem a long way from undertaking a major infrastructure project. But there are lessons the industry can learn from Tesla to make construction more efficient and to gain insights into the lifecycle of a building.
Take, for example, Tesla’s digital twin model, which the company uses to engineer its cars. The best example of how this affects the real world is in the manufacturer’s decision to remove the lumbar lever on the front passenger seat of some of its cars in 2021.
Every Tesla sends back telemetry to the carmaker; this covers everything from what the road-facing sensors see (helping Tesla with its vision to create autonomous driving capabilities) through to how owners are using the car’s equipment. One thing the company noticed Tesla owners were not using was the lumbar adjustment on the front passenger seat – so it went back to the virtual model it has of its cars and tweaked the design to eliminate the lever and save costs. In car manufacturing, every cent counts.
The construction industry could do well to follow Tesla’s example. By establishing a digital twin of a project stored in the cloud, insights can be gathered into everything from geographical peculiarities onsite through to how the building is used once tenants move in.
Construction is big business and digital twins can save money
According to the PwC report Global Construction 2030, the volume of construction output will grow by 85 per cent to $US15.5 trillion by 2030, with three countries, China, the US and India, accounting for 57 per cent of global growth. The study also found a global construction growth of 3.9 per cent per annum to 2030, outpacing global GDP growth by 1 per cent.
Consider, though, that the construction industry is a major emitter of carbon pollution. The International Energy Agency found direct building emissions need to fall by 50 per cent by 2030 if the world is going to reach net-zero emissions targets. This equates to an emissions reduction of 6 per cent per year – a tall order when at the same time construction output is growing all the time.
But by calculating the emissions of a project through a digital twin model before construction has started, and then simulating the lifecycle emissions of a building once people have moved in and begun to use the facility, will go some way to fixing this dilemma.
The digital twin allows engineers to target high-emitting elements of the building when it’s in the planning stage, helping to reduce its carbon footprint.
But reaching net-zero isn’t the only benefit of a digital twin. According to consulting firm McKinsey, the use of digital twins, along with a number of other measures, could boost productivity by between 50 and 60 per cent. With construction-related spending accounting for 13 per cent of global GDP, the scope for cost savings with digital twins is massive.
Construction might not be on the same page as Tesla just yet. But with the rise of the use of digital twins projects will become more efficient, and engineers will find their own lumbar levers to remove during planning to reduce cost.