Digital twins build a new presence in the construction industry

Commercial construction is an orchestration exercise of almost unimaginable complexity, but which has long been mastered mainly on paper.

Teams of building owners, electricians, plumbers, architects, structural engineers and numerous other professions have to come together in order to turn a design document into a building structure. You do this against a complex and ever-changing backdrop of regulations and building codes.

The possibilities that something can go wrong are endless. “Let’s say there are several levels of parking under the building,” said Breawn Felix, regional virtual design and construction manager at Swinerton Inc., a diversified construction company based in Southern California. “You may not be the head height required to accommodate ADA [Americans with Disability Act] Vehicles, or you may have a large exhaust pipe going through the garage that may require redesign. “

A fire extinguisher supply line that crosses an air conditioning duct or concrete foundation and does not leave enough area to provide sufficient side pressure can initiate a code violation that requires costly rework.

In her 11 years as a project manager of all kinds, Felix has seen pretty much everything. Your team’s job is to turn a building from the offer phase into reality. Now it does it with the help of three-dimensional imaging technology that captures every step of a construction project in a digital twin that can be used for inspection and modeling.

Live video recording

Even minor issues can take weeks, especially if the construction teams disagree on who is to blame. “Change orders can be controversial because no one knows exactly who is responsible for them,” said Jeevan Kalanithi, chief executive of OpenSpace Labs Inc., which developed the digital twin technology.

Despite having a background in machine learning and robotics, Kalanithi got a taste of the challenges facing builders from his previous company, a commercial drone maker whose software is widely used by construction and mining companies to monitor ongoing projects. “I got pretty caught up in this world,” he said.

This gave rise to the idea of ​​continuously documenting construction projects with 3D imaging and at the same time enabling construction companies, architects and project managers to work together. OpenSpace is a cloud service that works with a variety of off-the-shelf 360 ° cameras to create what Kalanithi called “a combination of teleporter and time machine”.

The software combines computer vision systems, such as those used in self-driving cars, with indoor navigation technology that helps robots traverse indoor spaces. Construction workers attach the camera to a helmet and walk through the construction site. The video is recorded by OpenSpace’s Vision Engine, which creates a time-stamped data set.

The video images can be matched against blueprints or computerized designs to show a direct comparison of the project and its actual status (pictured). The OpenSpace software synchronizes the video with the project design. Workers can comment on hotspots in the video and start discussions with other members of the construction team.

Vision Engine also has limited calculation options. “We can tell you how much concrete was needed versus how much concrete, or how much drywall was used versus the plan,” he said. “It’s a single version of the truth.”

Two second diagnosis

The payout takes place on several levels. In traditional building construction, discovering a problem may require architectural engineers to board airplanes to visit the construction site, adding time, expense, and skilled labor to other work. With the digital twin, he said, “they can look at it and see what is needed in two seconds instead of driving or flying to the location.”

Felix von Swinerton: “The added value cannot be overlooked.” Photo: Breawn Felix / LinkedIn

More difficult to calculate, but no less important, are savings through reduced risk and liability. The construction industry is “an industry with a lot of uncertainty that can lead to conflict,” he said. “We provide the truth serum – the system of recordings that allows people to get on the same page without a lot of complexity or architectural forensics.” The videos also serve as a historical record that can be used after construction is complete Locate the position of hidden materials such as pipes and electrical wiring.

Felix doesn’t need any persuasion. Prior to introducing OpenSpace, Swinerton documented progress by “sending project engineers to the site with a camera and taking hundreds of photos that were posted on a server,” she said. “If there was a problem, it could take hours to find the one photo we needed.”

Identifying problems is also easier. “We can split the screen of the design and the real world to see what may be non-compliant or installed in the wrong location,” she said. “The added value cannot be overlooked.”

Swinerton is currently using the technology on approximately 85 projects in Southern California, some of which involve hundreds of contractors and engineers. OpenSpace does not charge users, but recommends involving as many members of the construction team as possible. Felix said the training time was minimal.

The time saved alone changed the business, she said. “If I see a problem, I can send it to you and you can get in touch with me right away,” she said. “There are no more 15 e-mails; one push of a button and we all have the same focus. “

Revolutionary brows

OpenSpace, which has raised more than $ 88 million in funding, could have a tiger on its tail. Kalanithi said it is used in 70 countries on all seven continents, including Antarctica. More than 6 billion square feet of floor space has been recorded and archived, the equivalent of approximately 2,000 Empire State Buildings. “It’s growing a lot faster than I expected myself,” he said.

And it’s not alone. Suffolk Technologies Inc., the venture capital and technology investment arm of real estate and construction company Suffolk Construction Co. Inc., just last week announced a list of six construction startups it has selected to participate in its Boost Maintenance program .

These include Moxion Power Co., a manufacturer of mobile energy storage technology that offers temporary power-as-a-service, as well as WINT – Water Intelligence, which uses artificial intelligence to prevent water damage and optimize water consumption, and rugged robotics, whose robots are fully coordinated with one another Mark architectural and engineering designs directly on unfinished floors.

All of this can only be the beginning of a wave of automation for an industry that until recently stubbornly resisted entry into the digital age.

Image: OpenSpace

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