Digital twin manages smart building

Published on 28/03/2019 in Inspire

Digital twin manages smart building

At AXA Belgium, a smart building is one link in a greater whole. The insurance company has gathered everything together at its new head office in the center of Brussels: a new way of working, underpinned by smart technology in a smart and easily accessible building.

When can we talk about an intelligent building?

Emanuel Marreel, Business Development & Innovation Manager at Siemens: “With a smart building, the general public thinks, first of all, of a building that monitors energy consumption in a smart way and keeps it under control. But the concept is much broader than that. A smart building also has advantages in the areas of comfort, health and security, among other things.”

How do you convert a building into a smart building? Where do you start?

Emanuel: “For an intelligent building you need intelligent technology. It has to be really dummy-proof and focus on the user experience. If that’s not the case, there’s a good chance that no one will use the solution. Above all, a smart building relies on connectivity. The heart of the matter consists of connected, secure applications with which the user interacts in real time.”

In a smart building the focus is on the user experience. And yet user experience is very often not inherently on the agenda in the development of building projects today.

Jochen Verboven, Digitization Manager for Building Technologies at Siemens


Where is the smart building concept being applied first?

Emanuel: “Applications dealing with energy consumption are often a stepping stone. Buildings are responsible for a third of all energy consumption. That provides an area of application where you can achieve clear results immediately, certainly in our country, where 60% of non-residential buildings are over 40 years old. Twenty percent even date from before 1945. In the renovation market, IoT applications are often given the task of mapping out the energy consumption, after which it’s possible to target investments to reduce consumption.”

Optimal use

What is usually the next step after that?

Jochen Verboven, Digitization Manager for Building Technologies at Siemens: “Usually it’s an exercise that focuses on increasing efficient use of the building. With smart applications you can monitor the use of meeting rooms, the availability of operating rooms, of machines, and so forth. Indoor navigation, in which an interactive application guides the visitor to a reserved parking space or a meeting room, is also part of the line-up.”

What kinds of technologies are involved?

Jochen: “IoT is the main feature. Besides that, it primarily involves mobile applications that allow the user to talk to the building. Many of the solutions are based on location data. Often this involves knowing where someone is located on arrival, for example in the parking lot or in the building, and then offering that person the right information.”

How can you make a new construction project a smart project, right from the beginning?

Emanuel: “It’s essential that all stakeholders be involved in the project right from the beginning; the client, on the one hand, and the implementing parties on the other, including the architect, consulting firm and contractors. It’s important that the objective and the security of the intelligent aspect are both included in the process, as of the design phase.”

The digital twin is more than a 3D model. Sensors in the physical building capture data that feed the digital model.

Emanuel Marreel, Business Development & Innovation Manager at Siemens


Focus on the user experience

At the same time, you must keep an eye on the user experience. You don’t want technology that will only create more complexity.

Jochen: “Right. That’s definitely an important focus today. I daresay that the user experience is not inherently on the agenda in the development and implementation of building projects today. For the architect that is certainly a focus, going forward.”

A study by security company Kaspersky showed that the number of cyberattacks on connected devices from IoT solutions is sharply increasing. Does cybersecurity get adequate attention in the development of smart buildings?

Jochen: “In German industry a charter of trust, which Siemens has signed, has been established in that regard. The charter includes an ethical standard on cybersecurity. But of course that is the position of the supplier, who also doesn’t want to get into difficulties.

In practice it’s often a lot more complex. What if you sell or lease a building? That immediately raises quite a few questions on the possession of certain data and the responsibility for that data. Today there is a clear focus on securing all that data, but usually only later on in the process – so certainly not as of the design phase.”

An intelligent building consumes less energy, but a major investment is also associated with the intelligent aspect. What about the ROI?

Emanuel: “It is indeed sometimes a difficult exercise to calculate the return. It’s important that we also examine the whole picture in advance. So not just the construction costs, but also the maintenance.”

Digital twin

In practice the original building plan and the finished building don’t always correspond exactly, with the consequence of lower performance levels. Can the new technology currently available offer a solution for this?

Jochen: “The building information management/model (BIM) is the big game-changer here. Such a BIM, by default, includes a 3D model of the project. It amounts to having the plan implemented twice at the same time. That results in a building in the physical world and an identical digital twin in the BIM.”

Emanuel: “And that digital twin is more than a 3D model. It also involves providing sensors in the physical building that capture data and feed the digital model. Analysis of the data on the climate in the building – such as temperature and humidity – then allows the heating and ventilation, among other things, to be expressly tailored to the needs of the users depending on the weather and the availability of in-house energy generation, e.g. via solar panels.

The issue of cloud and edge computing also comes to the fore here. Is it OK to process that data in the cloud? Or is that better and more efficiently done on a piece of in-house infrastructure? As digital twinning technology gains maturity, we will get the answers to those questions.”

At the moment there is a lack of clear general guidelines. What do you anticipate the future to be in that area?

Emanuel: “The market itself will reveal that. We are now seeing the first partnerships being formed such as that between Besix and Proximus.”

Jochen: “De facto standards that the industry accepts will arise relatively quickly, just because they support a good way of collaborating.”

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Siemens is a global German group with activities in electronics and electrical engineering. The company works primarily in industry, the energy and building sectors and healthcare.

Jochen Verboven has an engineering degree from KU Leuven. He has worked at Siemens for eleven years, the past three of which as Digitization Manager for Building Technologies.

Emanuel Marreel has an engineering degree from KU Leuven. He has worked at Siemens for seventeen years. In his current role he is Business Development & Innovation Manager for the digitization of cities, buildings, businesses, mobility and energy.


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