‘Twin-wash’: Escaping the spin cycle

This article aims to discuss the latest AEC industry movement – Digital Twins. Whilst there is value in the concept when applied to the AEC industry, there is also risk in how the term is used and marketed. Ultimately, the success of the concept lies in how well the results match the ‘spin’.

Not pictured here: A digital twin

Twin-wash’, I mutter to myself, passing another marketing video for Digital Twins. For those in the dark, it’s a parody of the term BIM-wash – deceptively coining work as 'BIM', when it is in fact not.

Before this all comes across as negative, hear me out – I see immense value for what the Digital Twin concept offers both our industry and its clients. But every time I see an ‘Iron-man’ style computer screen in marketing videos for Digital Twins (no keys, users touching a hologram), I lose a bit of interest in the movement.

The concept of a Digital Twin isn’t revolutionary (NASA coined the term in 2012), it’s simply a refocusing of how we approach BIM and the value of the product of its processes – data rich 3D models, embellished with peripherals to give them true real-world value.

There are some fantastic initiatives attempting to ‘steer’ the definition and perception of Digital Twins, the most recent of which I saw was buildingSMART presenting in Sydney last month. On the flip side, I’ve seen some questionable marketing spiels from major software vendors proclaiming (whom shall not be named) that ‘the thing about BIM is; it’s all about 3D models’ (BIM data and workflows would like to have a word with you!).

4D, 5D, 6D and beyond - these dimensions of BIM have been well established prior to the coming of Digital Twins. The true value I see in what Digital Twin offers is how our clients and users can make better use of our BIM models and their associated data. It forces us to justify the 'shelf life' of a BIM model - it can be immensely valuable beyond handover if we can feed new data into it (such as via sensors).

I’ve come across some suggestions that Digital Twins mean ‘the end of BIM' – I doubt it. Break the most elegant Digital Twin down to its initial production methods, and I guarantee you that usually there will be BIM technicians working away at a base model and data infrastructure. I see the two paradigms as explicitly complimentary, they benefit equally from each other’s initiatives. BIM offers up robust, data-centric 3D models as a base so that we can overlay and connect data sources to it to (or its static output) to produce a Digital Twin.

Whilst I am an enthusiast of all things BIM, I won’t be the first to admit that it wasn’t completely successful in its adoption and confused most of our clients for some time (our industry's fault, not theirs). The BIM-wash is all too often still real; many organizations still work predominantly in 2D drafting programs, and glorify the almighty, unquestionable red pen and trace. I find myself wondering, how they will catch up to producing Digital Twins?

Even for these organizations that don’t truly ‘do BIM’, they still usually market as if they do – their competition demands it. I recall attending presentations as a BIM manager many years back and seeing ‘data rain’ images from The Matrix used often, cringing each time we strayed further from the point of BIM. It may be too late to escape the spin cycle of the BIM-wash, but it isn’t to late to escape it for Digital Twins.

I hope that we as an entire industry can come together, and market the true strengths of Digital Twins authentically and with common agreement. I look forward to seeing where it goes, but I beg the marketing teams out there, leave the ‘Iron-man’ screens with Tony Stark for now.

- Gavin Crump @BIM Guru

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