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The Digital Twin - from vision to action

The digital twin is often talked about alongside the use of BIM as a platform for transferring data to the management, operation and maintenance phase. How do you break it down in real life? Here are some experiences from Campus Ås.

Written by Linda Bystrøm, Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU)

The idea of a digital twin in operations spurs from NMBU´s overall goal and strategy of a
sustainable facilities management. For NMBU, the digital twin is not a goal in and of
itself. However, in the development of a more digitized and effective facility
management we regard a digital twin as part of the solution, and a path that can and will
support our overall strategy.

The University of Life Sciences´ facilities management sustainability ambition covers
sustainable production of new-builds and rehabilitation projects. This includes low green
house gas emissions, conscientious choices in material usage, fossil free and
eventually waste free construction sites. Finally, it must include continuous awareness
and hard work in ensuring that the building and its users are using the building as

There is no one formula to fit all

For instance, when optimising energy usage we must consider and ensure well suited spaces for teaching and research. We must balance energy use and the core activity of our institution. NMBU has a great variety in buildings and functions. This includes not only offices and lecture halls, but also very specialised labs, green houses, animal care facilities and aquariums, and finally arenas for creative thinking and social activities.

It’s not sustainable if researchers, who for example work on grain types adapted to
changing climate conditions, can not get relevant facilities for their work. Even if that
requires a lot of energy use.

We must take on real and relevant dilemmas and handle them in a proper manner.

To build or not to build

Most importantly: Utilising existing areas and avoid new-builds is key. Sometimes the most sustainable is not to do anything at all. This is also the most difficult part, as it requires great involvement from users and management. It is not something that an estates department or facility manager can do alone. NMBU is currently building a massive new venue covering more than 60 000 square meters and the relative footprint for both construction and operations will be huge.

Correlating ambitions, strategies, decisions and implementations are difficult. How we
operate our buildings effects everyone on campus. Yet most of the time, people are not
reflecting on how their own use of the built assets have on the collective footprint.
In that sense, technology, or digital twins, are not the true challenges. The real efforts
go into spending time and working hard on a non-technological level across an entire

Pilot projects as basis for long-term choices

However, as building operators and facility managers we must make sure we have the right technological tools at hand. Both to provide relevant information to decision makers and to be ready to implement change quickly. With tight budgets and resources, we also need to make sure we get the very most out of the investments we do.

So far, we have implemented multiple digitisation and digital transformation pilot
projects within all of NMBU´s operational areas; new-builds, planning, operations and
user participation. This has given us valuable insight in what we need at this point, what
we are actually able to do today, and where we see ourselves in 5-10 years from now.
Bimsync has been part of several pilots and is also one of the systems we now use
permanently in larger construction projects.

Introducing BIM to people can be difficult. The “what’s in it for me” is not always
obvious, and the user threshold in most existing BIM-systems can be high. Bimsync
both solves an important need today and has given us a platform to test new
functionality and BIM-implementations in operations. This is where a digital twin for testing and simulation purposes really come to good use.

The important operations phase

The main emissions from any building takes place in the maintenance phase; from the key hand-over all the way through to when the building is demolished. The footprint is higher than necessary, because the buildings are run in a non-optimised manner. This means that we, as building owners are spending much more money than we need to.

There are often large amounts of data available in modern or modernised buildings and
NMBU use energy management actively. But we still have limited ability to structure and
combine measured data in an effective manner for optimised sustainability.

In order to achieve proper sustainable facilities management, NMBU believes user
involvement is really the only solution. In out pilot project called “Sustainable use of built
assets” we were looking specifically into how the users relate to our buildings, and how
we could involve them and lead them to make environmentally motivated choices.

Now we are carrying out an international tender to choose a solution for the long haul.
The tender is based on the four last years of extensive use of pilot projects, combined
with our acute need of a system that can handle the complicated maintenance of the
new Veterinary building at our Campus.

A digital future needs analog and human groundwork

Perhaps surprisingly, we have produced a lot of documentation to utilise digital tools
and automatised routines. We need procedures, manuals, quality assuring routines and
dedicated resources to do processual follow-ups.

We have hired new staff members that have qualifications within digitalisation and BIM.
In all new recruitment processes we ask for knowledge and/or interest in digitalisation
and BIM. Also, existing facility management staff receive BIM training courses so that
we all have a common platform for moving forward.

BIM as the base - but avoid blind faith in it

The University of Life Sciences are soon to receive the keys from Statsbygg to the new Veterinary building. To prepare the operations phase, the use of BIM is a necessity.

Future maintenance staff members actively use Solibri today to “get to know” the
building. This staff are also crucial voices in defining future needs and development of
the digital transformation within the organisation. They report that they can operate a
building without a BIM, but they cannot maintain it without good systems that cover the
complex building structure and all the processes and routines that a high-tech facility
management institution requires. An unstructured BIM is thus practically useless, and
unfortunately this is still a big problem that operations inherit from the projects.

We should not have blind faith in BIM as a technology in and of itself. This is a bit of a
challenge in the facility management systems market of today. Even if BIM-knowledge
is high, knowledge of facility management challenges and key operations processes is
too limited.

This needs to be improved and adjusted in the time ahead for institutions like ours to
succeed in setting up truly sustainable facility management systems based on Digital

Linda Bystrøm will speak more about this topic at the "Digitalisering av byggenæringen" event 6 June 2019 in Oslo. If you work in the industry and understand Norwegian, use the VIP code DAB19-CATENDA-E to get free entry to the conference. Sign up here.

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