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Autodesk discloses digital-twin platform for AEC industry

Source: Autodesk
Image Credit: Autodesk

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Autodesk has been on a tear, expanding its support for digital twins across the building industry. For starters, Autodesk launched Tandem, a digital twin platform that promises to connect the dots between project owners and architectural, engineering, and contracting (AEC) teams. The company hopes these initiatives will make it easier to convert mounds of disorganized data into a comprehensive digital replica of the components, systems, and spaces in a facility.

“We believe an increased demand for digital twins by owners and operators of buildings and infrastructure will create new market opportunities for digital technologies and digitization of the AEC industry,” said Bob Bray, senior director and general manager of Autodesk Tandem.

The company also acquired Innovyze, a water infrastructure modeling and simulation tool leader, for $1 billion. Innovyze software helps over 3,000 water agencies model fundamental components of water infrastructure. Better simulation tools are growing in importance as water agencies grapple with the impact of droughts accelerated by climate change.

“The acquisition accelerates Autodesk’s digital twin strategy and creates a clearer path to a more sustainable and digitized water industry,” Bray said.

The company’s overall direction was further amplified last month when Autodesk acquired Upchain, which makes product lifecycle management (PLM) and product data management tools. This partnership could also make it easier to manage digital twins of the products and systems that get integrated into new construction projects.

Notably, this move also allows Autodesk to expand beyond construction into the market for other types of digital twins solutions that is led by PLM giants like Siemens, PTC, and Dassault.

Connecting the digital dots

Digital twins are a natural evolution of Autodesk’s decades-long effort to digitize the AEC industry worldwide, including the company’s advancement of building information modeling (BIM), which serves as the underpinning of Autodesk Tandem.

“While digital twin as a term or concept is new for AEC, a digital twin is simply the accumulation of all project data in one place,” Bray said.

Autodesk Tandem, for example, harnesses the data created throughout the project lifecycle to create the digital twin of the asset. With Autodesk Tandem, all the project asset, space, and system information is brought into a single platform, creating a digital replica of the facility, along with metadata and documentation for each asset.

Previous efforts have seen Autodesk working with ESRI to put GIS and BIM data at the center of projects. In the future, building the bridge between GIS and BIM will change the way Autodesk and its customers plan, design, and build, Bray said.

Autodesk Tandem integrates with other common building operations software such as computerized maintenance and management systems (CMMS) for building management and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems for equipment management. Autodesk’s vision is to provide “a single pane of glass” through which to view and manage various systems related to facilities management.

Up-front moves mean long-term value

The digitization of building industries is a powerful trend. As consultancy Deloitte has noted, new business models and an increase in M&A activity are further accelerating the shift toward digital transformation in engineering and construction, as well as operational efficiencies.

Indicators suggest the construction industry is placing much greater emphasis on R&D, and companies that have invested in construction technology and facilities are gaining traction. According to a McKinsey report on next-generation construction trends, global R&D spending by the top 2,500 construction companies grew by 77% from 2013 to 2017.

Approximately 80% of a facility’s total lifecycle cost is realized during operations. So, considering at the outset what an owner will need at handover helps ensure proper asset management based on business goals and processes, according to Bray. He also said the new Autodesk software allows owners to engage early with their contractors to define upfront the information that Autodesk Tandem will collect.

In the long run, Bray believes Autodesk’s recent moves will help accelerate construction and infrastructure trends toward digital transformation, where systems become more connected as data is generated. Systems will learn from one another, share insights, and optimize performance in real time, he suggested.

“Today, digital transformation has gone from a nice-to-have to a must-have across every phase of design, construction, and operations,” Bray said.

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