By Devon Maresco
Marketing Coordinator

In the growing era of smart buildings, some of the most important technologies are those used in planning and governance. Developers, builders, and tradespeople need the foresight that comes with dynamic building plans. Then, after it’s constructed, facility managers need a way to oversee space in practice which boils down to a discussion about BIM and digital twins.

What is a digital twin vs. BIM? Think of them as two sides of the same smart coin. Both are practical and increasingly necessary in the context of smart buildings. One supports the design, plan, and build of a structure, the other connects the building to the people and assets within it. Both are important, and both are distinct. Here’s a look at what makes BIM and digital twins unique.

What is BIM used for?

Building Information Modeling (BIM) governs the design, planning, and execution of a build. As buildings grow more complex, so do the design elements that govern them. BIM offers a clear view of the design plan to all parties involved, and makes it dynamic to support any changes.

The best way to think about BIM is as a layered look at the building. One layer may have the framework of the structure. Then, it’s overlaid with an electrical diagram. Then plumbing and HVAC, and so on until each unique system and subsystem of the building are part of the complete plan. At any given time, tradespeople can peel away the layers to see exactly how a specific part of the plan looks or interacts with any other.

Above all, BIM is smart. If a change affects multiple layers of the design plan, BIM can update them accordingly—or alert the appropriate tradespeople to a conflict before the build begins. It can also update building material lists, build sequences, and system checklists, all without manual intervention. BIM is smart building technology for smarter buildings.

What is digital twin technology?

Digital twins tie buildings and their spaces to the people and purposes they’re designed for. Think of digital twins as a digital replica of the building, used to govern it from a data-driven perspective. Smart buildings that produce data feed it into the digital twin, where managers and decision-makers can use it to inform smarter oversight.

Digital twins offer three chief functions: model, simulate, and manage. Information modeling provides the context for how a building serves its occupants and the quantifiable variables endemic to it. Simulation allows facility managers to plan changes and adjustments with data-backed insights, to see how they’ll affect the workplace. Management through digital twins can refer to space management, asset management, and workforce management—all governed using aggregated data.

It’s best to think about digital twins as an anchor for the office IoT and smart building systems. Every data point streamed from sensors and connected devices congregates in the digital twin. From that twin, all manner of workplace software (IWMS, CAFM, EAMS, CMMS) can pull data to provide refined insights about the workplace. It all distills down into information-backed decision-making that leads to better workplaces.

BIM vs. digital twins

While they sound similar in many ways, BIM and digital twins are more akin to sides on the same coin. BIM is what’s responsible for smart building construction; digital twins are the key to managing them.

The confusion between these intelligent platforms comes from the fact that they both represent a digital reconstruction of the building. What makes them different is the capacity in which they support it. BIM helps keep design-build on-time, under-budget, and true-to-form. Digital twins help a well-designed building meet and exceed its intended purpose.

Smart buildings are only getting smarter, which means they demand intelligent software to support the entire building life cycle. BIM and digital twins combine to answer this demand, each serving an important role before, during, and after the build, and to the many purposes it’ll serve throughout its lifetime.

Smarter building requires smarter tech

The rise of BIM and digital twins in the life cycle of a building isn’t coincidence—it’s necessity. Buildings are more complex than they’ve ever been, with complicated systems and subsystems that need to work cohesively. Conversely, we also expect more from our spaces than we ever have before. Regardless of design intention, companies are finding new and inventive ways to maximize space to get the most ROI from their facilities.

BIM and digital twins are at the core of building life cycle management. BIM makes smart building construction simpler. Digital twins make it easier to manage these complex spaces and all the expectations companies have for them. Together, they’ve enabled buildings to become dynamic, from conception to utilization.

Keep reading: The Top Challenges for Creating Smart Buildings

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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.