Digital twins for a more efficient, reliable and safe construction industry

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Image of one of the bridges on the ADIF Plasencia-Badajoz (AVE) high-speed line with a digital twin layer. It is one of the infrastructures that will be monitored by the ASHVIN project.

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Rolando Chacón, a researcher from the UPC’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the University’s coordinator of the ASHVIN project

Researchers from the UPC’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, which is linked to the Barcelona School of Civil Engineering, are leading one of the work packages of the European project ASHVIN, an initiative that aims to make a more efficient, reliable and safe European construction industry by using digital twins. The project is already being implemented on a bridge on the Plasencia-Badajoz high-speed line and in several buildings in Barcelona.

Jul 15, 2021

Digital twins are virtual replicas of objects or processes that simulate the real-time behaviour of their actual counterparts. This innovative technology provides a lot of benefits, since it allows to reproduce, experiment and anticipate situations in a safe environment to improve their effectiveness. “It is not a new concept: it was originally developed by NASA to test the viability of missions. Our goal with the ASHVIN project is to apply this innovative technology to civil engineering”, explains Rolando Chacón, a researcher from the UPC’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the University’s coordinator of the project Assistants for Healthy, Safe, and Productive Virtual Construction Design, Operation & Maintenance using a Digital Twin (ASHVIN), which has received funding from the European Union programme for research and innovation Horizon 2020.

ASHVIN  aims to improve productivity, reduce costs and ensure safe working conditions in the European construction industry. The proposal is based on creating a European digital twin standard, an open source digital twin platform integrating IoT, image processing technologies and a set of tools and procedures to guarantee specified productivity, cost and safety improvements.

Real-time data monitoring
The envisioned platform will create a digital representation of the infrastructure to be built that will allow to collect real-time digital data before, during and after construction to continuously monitor changes in the environment and within the infrastructure. “The proposal is based on a concept that is being discussed a lot in our sector: the digitisation of civil engineering and Construction 4.0. ASHVIN will have three main pillars: design, construction and infrastructure maintenance. At the UPC we will be leading the latter”, explains Chacón, who is also a professor at the UPC’s Barcelona School of Civil Engineering. “All innovations will also be tested in actual construction projects in several European countries”, he adds. In Spain, one of the infrastructures being tested is a bridge on the ADIF Plasencia-Badajoz high-speed line (as seen in the image), but it is also being implemented in several buildings in Barcelona and infrastructures across Europe.

The ASHVIN consortium, led by TU Berlin, is made up of 14 partners, including SMEs, industry, universities and research centres, from nine European countries: Germany, the Netherlands, Greece, Serbia, Austria, Spain, Croatia, Poland and Sweden. All of them have extensive expertise in construction and engineering management, digital twin technology, IoT and data security and privacy.

The project is aligned with the objectives of the European Green Deal, a set of initiatives by the European Commission for the purpose of building a sustainable economy and making Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. It aims to boost the efficient use of resources by moving to a clean, circular economy, restoring biodiversity and cutting pollution.

Camins Makers 

The origin of the UPC’s participation in this project lies in the Camins Makers initiative, which was launched by the Scale Models Laboratory of the Barcelona School of Civil Engineering in the 2014-2015 academic year. The laboratory has been applying digital twin technology to civil engineering in recent years. Under the slogan ‘Learning through making’, Camins Makers is a space for digital manufacturing and modelling focused on calculating, analysing and developing interactive widgets. In this space, teaching and research activities are developed by looking for a creative and interactive component with open hardware and software technologies. “We build, analyse, create and modify, following the maker philosophy, our teaching and research applied to civil engineering”, says Chacón.