University of Twente Student Theses


Towards construction 4.0 : an assessment on the potential of Digital Twins in the infrastructure sector

(2020) Towards construction 4.0 : an assessment on the potential of Digital Twins in the infrastructure sector.

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Abstract:The fourth industrial revolution (i.e. Industry 4.0) reflects a growing trend towards increasingly digitising and automating production environments where communication between physical products, their environment and business partners becomes enabled. A key concept of Industry 4.0 concerns the Digital Twin (DT), whose vision relates to the seamless convergence between the physical and virtual world. In the light of Industry 4.0, DTs have been extensively reported over the past years and proven to offer business benefits in various industries. Yet, the equivalent for the construction industry, referred to as Construction 4.0, has only received limited attention to date. Since Construction 4.0 principles have the potential to strongly impact the industry, Heijmans has set the ambition to have a DT for every project by 2023, which formed the motivation for conducting this research. Although much literature is available on the DT concept, a uniform definition and reference model are absent. Combining the need for consolidation on the concept in the light of existing research and construction applications, the goal of this research was to contribute to the integration of DTs in the operations of infrastructure contractors by studying what the concept entails for construction and developing a functional design for DTs to assess the potential value that their applications can offer. This research focused on the initial phases of the asset lifecycle, from the start of the design till the end of the construction phase. To conduct this research, the design science methodology has been followed. Using this method, knowledge questions and design problems were treated. Knowledge questions served to frame the DT in the context of the construction industry and to identify potential application areas. The design problem focused on the development of a functional design for two DT use-cases in construction, which were used to validate potential benefits at construction practitioners. In order to classify the DT in construction, a literature study was conducted that revealed that the interpretation of a DT is affected by four variables: the simulation aspect, lifecycle phase, content, and the physical twin. This yielded that a DT is the virtual equivalent of a physical system that evolves along its lifecycle in a synchronous manner. Furthermore, it was found that DTs can be classified in multiple types and that several authors have taken initiatives to classify DTs in typologies based on different dimensions. In this research, a framework was developed that merges three existing DT typologies and enables to frame a DT based on three dimensions: •Attribute (Asset, Process, Fleet); •Lifecycle phase (Beginning of Life [BOL], Middle of Life [MOL], End of Life [EOL]); •Extent of data integration (Digital Model, Digital Shadow, Digital Twin). Using this framework, six interrelated types of DTs for application in the construction industry were differentiated. These were distinguished based on whether they are applied during the BOL phase (design & construction planning) or MOL phase (construction), and whether they provide the virtual representation of an asset, process, or fleet of similar assets or process steps. For each of the six types, application areas were found in the construction industry based on interviews at Heijmans, document analysis, and literature regarding DT applications in other industries. DTs can thereby be regarded as a means to monitor, analyse, simulate and predict the performance of a physical system. The identified applications centre around virtual commissioning, evaluation of design and process configurations, (real-time) monitoring, what-if scenarios, and information continuity along the asset lifecycle. To explore the practical applicability of DTs in construction and assess the potential added value, a functional design was developed for two use-cases. Since literature lacks a general accepted reference model, a literature study regarding DT building blocks was conducted to provide guidance on the functional design. The literature study found that reference frameworks are context dependent and influenced by the classification used for DT. For application in the construction industry, a DT reference framework has been developed that consists of six building blocks that are semantically linked: •Physical layer; •Model layer; •Data layer; •Connection; •Service layer; •Enterprise layer. PAGE 5/93 The six building blocks in the DT reference framework provided the baseline for the functional designs of two use-cases, respectively: • Simulation based optimisation of asphalt paving operations; • Progress monitoring using field data capturing technologies for groundwork activities. Simulation based optimisation of asphalt paving operations provides a practical example on how DTs can be used during the BOL phase with the emphasis on the process domain. This application enables to virtually evaluate multiple process configurations in a data-driven simulation environment. Based on the simulation outcomes, the most cost-effective alternative can be selected. Validation of this use-case demonstrated that it could lead to improved predictability of the process, cost reductions and improved communication. Progress monitoring using field data capturing technologies for groundwork activities provides a practical example of a monitoring service that can be offered by the DT during the MOL phase. Based on geometric comparisons between the as-planned model and point-clouds of the as-built status on a reference moment, this application enables to keep track of the progress made on the construction site and highlight progress discrepancies. Furthermore, monitoring data can be analysed to detect activities that regularly cause delays or cost overruns. Validation of this use-case demonstrated that the implementation of this use-case could lead to earlier identification of deviations with regard to schedule, better financial control, and better traceability of deviations from the design. Overall, this research found that DTs can be expected to offer added value in the primary business process of infrastructure contractors. DTs thereby mainly affect the way how stakeholders interact with information throughout the asset lifecycle. The main transformation areas can be expected on the control and feedback loops, where stakeholders can benefit from better informed decision making due to the availability of quantified progress data and simulation capabilities. Recommendations based on the results of this research concern that in the light of Heijmans’ ambition for 2023, for relatively simple projects where no Operations & Maintenance is included in the scope, the two types of DT process applications can most likely offer most added value. Furthermore, it is recommended to conduct a Proof of Concept for both use-cases to validate the actual added value instead of relying on predictions. In addition, it is recommended to start with monitoring services because they facilitate to collect data in a structured manner that can be used for both, controlling the process as well as input for simulations for future operations
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:ET: Engineering Technology
Programme:Construction Management and Engineering MSc (60337)
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