Coding Reality: Decoding Digital Twin Architecture

  • Portrait of Wahib Saif

    Wahib Saif

    Researcher

  • March 28, 2024

In this article, we will focus on what constitutes a digital twin, and what are the enabling technologies and processes behind its architecture?

To answer these questions, it is essential to deconstruct digital twin’s architecture into key distinct layers and demonstrate their data interactions. As presented in the figure below, these layers encompass sensing, communication, storage, analytics, and visualisation. However, it is key to note that the naming and grouping of these layers may vary among academic researchers and industry professionals. For instance, sensing and communication can be merged into a single layer, named the perception layer, while storage and analytics might be merged into a service layer. Nevertheless, for a better understanding, it’s helpful to provide a more comprehensive and granular breakdown of digital twin architecture into the following five layers:

 

Diagram of digital twin architecture

Figure 1. Digital twin architectural layers and their data interaction.

 

Sensing Layer: At the foundation of any digital twin architecture lies its first and most fundamental layer—the sensing layer. This layer encompasses one or more types of data-acquisition devices responsible for collecting raw data from the physical environment in which they were deployed. Enabling technologies includes IoT devices and sensors such as RFID tags, GPS trackers, accelerometers, and cameras. The selection of sensing technologies directly influences the reliability and capturing frequency of the raw data and hence the overall efficiency and performance of the digital twin system. Thus, it is crucial to understand the data requirements aligned with the digital twin primary purpose.

Communication Layer: The communication layer serves as the bridge between the physical site and its digital representation. It facilitates the transmission of the raw data collected by the sensing layer and transferring it to the digital hub to be stored, processed, or visualised. This layer mostly leverages wireless communication protocols, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or cellular networks, to ensure reliable connectivity across the construction site. The choice of communication technologies and protocols is affected by several factors, such as the desired coverage range, data transmission speed, latency, security features, costs, and energy consumption.

Storage Layer: Once data is collected and transmitted, it needs a secure and scalable storage infrastructure. The storage layer of a digital twin system stores vast amounts data including not only sensing data, but also historical records, project documentation, and other relevant information that can collectively be analysed to draw insights. Cloud-based storage solutions are often employed to accommodate the high volume of data generated in construction projects while ensuring accessibility and data integrity.

Analytics Layer: The analytics layer forms the intelligence hub of the digital twin system, responsible for processing and translating the data. Here, advanced algorithms, machine learning models, and statistical analytical tools process the raw data to derive meaningful insights. By analysing trends, detecting anomalies, and predicting potential issues, the analytics layer empowers stakeholders with informed decision-making to optimise construction processes, enhance productivity, and mitigate risks proactively.

Visualisation Layer: Finally, the visualisation layer represents the digital twin frontend where the processed data get presented in insightful and proper formats that enable easy access and quick decision-making to project stakeholders. It provides them with intuitive interfaces, dashboards, and interactive 3D models that represent the physical site assets in virtual space. Through visually rich representations, stakeholders can visualise real-time data, track progress, simulate scenarios, and collaborate more effectively.

In conclusion, the architecture of digital twins in construction applications includes a multi-layered framework that integrates sensing, communication, storage, analytics, and visualisation capabilities. By employing these capabilities, construction professionals can streamline operations, optimise resource utilisation, improve safety, and deliver projects more efficiently in today’s dynamic built environment.

About the authors

Portrait of Wahib Saif

Wahib Saif

Researcher

Wahib is an accomplished researcher specialising in digital construction, currently advancing his PhD in the adoption of digital twins for managing construction sites. His active consultancy work involves collaborating with the HSE and software providers to enhance construction risk management. An advocate for lean principles and systems thinking, Wahib is dedicated to improving data management efficiency across construction operations.

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