Facility and workplace safety and security are broad categories that combine risk mitigation, hazard identification and removal, regulatory compliance, and proactive planning and preparation. Unfortunately, this means safety initiatives can be complicated patchworks of separate projects. But with the implementation of digital twin technologies, facility managers can leverage building information (BIM) data to deliver safer, more secure work environments. 

Poor safety standards and practices can pose real dangers to both people and the bottom line. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), focusing on safety helps you “significantly reduce injuries and illnesses and reduce the costs associated with these injuries and illnesses,” which can include: 

  • Workers’ compensation payments 
  • Medical expenses 
  • Lost productivity 

There are also reputational costs. Companies don’t want to do business with an organization that has a history of safety issues. Top talent leaves, and it’s harder to attract good people.  

Real safety from a virtual source

New technologies are making it easier to be safer. 

A digital twin is a virtual version of a physical object, process, or system that syncs with real-time data. In the case of a facility, you can build a twin using BIM data and then connect it to facility management workflows, bridging the gaps between earlier phases and operations and maintenance.  

Specifically for facility safety, static systems can evolve into dynamic programs driven by data. You get effective, efficient preventive maintenance, real-time condition-based and predictive maintenance, and right-fit safety procedures that best match your facility. 

Accurate lists and locations for on-demand and preventive maintenance

Facility safety starts back in the design and construction phases, where architects, engineers, and construction managers ensure compliance with regulations and best practices on everything from guardrails to illuminated exit signs, from sprinklers to eyewash stations. 

Because BIM creates a shared data environment where every department can store and share their part of the overall project, organizations can then efficiently incorporate all the relevant safety data into the digital twin. And once it’s all inside the twin, facility managers and other stakeholders can actively leverage it for better decision-making. 

So, when the facility or maintenance manager is creating the schedules for safety-related preventive maintenance inspections and tasks, they can see the exact location for every asset. The techs don’t miss anything because the maintenance lead builds the schedule from a complete, comprehensive list of assets and their locations.  

But safety is more than just the obvious associated equipment. Because the digital twin contains data and locations on all critical systems, including heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), plumbing, and electrical, the team can more efficiently stay on top of maintenance and repairs throughout the facility.  

On the most basic level, it’s easier to look after a facility if you know exactly what’s in it and where everything is located. For example, if there is a leak inside a wall, the team can see on the digital twin the nearby plumbing as well as any electrical wiring. And when a third-party vendor comes onsite to work on the sprinklers, they have accurate maps, even if there’s been renovations or remodeling. The digital twin isn’t a static set of paper blueprints sitting in the back of a filing cabinet. It’s an accurate, up-to-date model of the facility that spans multiple dimensions, including space and time. So, you know where the smoke detectors are located, when they were installed, and the last time they were inspected.  

Real-time monitoring for condition-based and predictive maintenance

You build a digital twin with BIM data, and then you feed it constant streams of data from asset-based sensors and devices as well as from your facility management software solution. With a real-time virtual version of your facility, you can monitor everything from air quality to how hard the hot water tanks are working.  

Asset-mounted sensors can capture data related to: 

  • Temperature 
  • Vibration 
  • Pressure 
  • Moisture 
  • Electrical signals 

Office spaces can have sensors for occupancy, so the digital twin contains both current numbers and overall trends. As all that data comes in, you can catch anomalies quickly, helping avoid costly, dangerous failures. For example, as soon as a piece of equipment starts to overheat, you take it offline for inspection and repairs. If there are issues with the air quality, you can schedule inspections for the HVAC air filters. 

Security and safety based on accurate facility data and digital twin simulations 

As many organizations adopt agile workplaces and employees move to the hybrid model, tracking usage and occupancy is becoming more important for everything from space planning to visitor management. It’s no longer possible to expect a set number of employees to work Monday through Friday, from nine until five. Instead, you need to reliably capture data to deliver workspaces that best support opportunities for connection and collaboration — the reasons many are making their way back to the office. Understanding who is coming to the facility and how they’re using the space can also help you with everything from fine-tuning your visitor management program to re-evaluating your fire evacuation plans.    

There are many specifics to security and safety, but in one important way, they’re the same as all the other challenges facility managers face: Finding the best solution involves testing, and traditionally, testing is time-consuming and expensive. But with a digital twin, you can run simulations without risking people or property. Once you’ve identified a hazard, you can test different ways to reduce the risk. After finding the solution virtually, you can confidently implement it in the real world. 

BIM-fueled digital twins for safer, more secure facilities 

BIM and digital twins are established technologies in the fields of design, construction, and manufacturing. By creating a shared space and standard for data, BIM empowers you to break down silos between teams. And with a digital twin, you can simulate and test everything from how a widget performs under physical pressure to where sunshine lands in an office at different times of the day. 

Traditionally, BIM and digital twins have not been a large part of the operations and maintenance phases of the life cycle, but a strategic alliance between industry leaders is creating a new synergy. The Autodesk Tandem® and Eptura™ integration allows you to connect BIM with facility and workplace management workflows. Tandem simplifies and streamlines the process of building a data-rich digital replica for a holistic view of your facility. The Eptura integration then helps you create a bi-directional, continuous data loop between the twin and your facility management solution. 

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Jonathan writes about asset management, maintenance software, and SaaS solutions in his role as a digital content creator at Eptura. He covers trends across industries, including fleet, manufacturing, healthcare, and hospitality, with a focus on delivering thought leadership with actionable insights. Earlier in his career, he wrote textbooks, edited NPC dialogue for video games, and taught English as a foreign language. He hold a master's degree in journalism.

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