The Importance of Digital Twins for the Future of Infrastructure
The future for infrastructure related industries such as engineering, and construction looks bright. World population is expected to grow to a minimum of 9 bn people by 2030. The volume of global infrastructure is to reach $94 trillion by 2040 meaning that approximately six new Europes will be built until then. Approximately 70 % of the global population will live in urban areas.
This growth will come with a change on how we plan our infrastructure, because apart from the urbanization and people growth other factors such as the climate change will impact the way we live. Countries and cities need to prepare themselves to meet these challenges in the way they plan their infrastructure. This is where digital twins will come into the game.
In general, digital twins are virtual representations of a physical assets. Translated to infrastructure, they are virtual copies of buildings, roads, railroad networks or parks. They unfold their full value for infrastructure when they are connected to data sources and sensors and therefore allow for the visualization of assets, status checks, execution of analysis to provide a base to predict and optimize asset performance. These insights are provided throughout the asset lifecycle from planning to design, build and operate.
Digital Twins allow a low risk approach to simulate the building of infrastructure taking into account different stakeholder`s requirements and demographic development scenarios. It will thereby prevent cities or authorities from making costly mistakes. Furthermore, it will speed up lengthy infrastructure planning cycles. This was also a major rationale for the City of Rennes in France to start its digital twin project of the metropolitan area. It has been the intention of the city to make urban planning more transparent to the public and the stakeholders. The public can access the digital twins via the so-called Rennes Platform. The incorporation of data from sensors in the city provides real time visualization of changes and the people can interact with the platform in real time. That for example allows the city to optimize the routes of public transportation by at the same time incorporating the mobility needs of the majority of the users.
Digital Twins are also employed when it comes to the construction of new cities such as Amarvati in India by involving future inhabitants and their requirements for urban living in the planning and design of the city.
This all comes not “free of effort” and cost. The cities and their infrastructure need to be scanned to create the Digital Twins. This is a time-consuming process despite the use of robots, satellites or drones. Furthermore, they need to be updated in regular intervals to track the changes being made to the infrastructure and to keep it up to date. All this should be outweighed by the benefits: reduced planning cost, reduced risk of false investments or reduced maintenance cost.