Q&A: Digital Twins and Safety with Ciaran Hennessy


14 July 2021

At Lendlease, we are committed to the health and safety of our people. This means we focus on maintaining the health and wellbeing of our people and those who engage with our assets. We aim to improve our people’s lives by creating a workplace where they thrive and are more productive. 
We also aim to eliminate incidents and injuries across all our operations and sites.

In collaboration with members in the Infrastructure Working Group of the Digital Twin Consortium, Lendlease has produced a special report on the role of digital twins and the impact they have on safety in construction.

We sit down with Ciaran Hennessy, Principal Architect at Lendlease Digital and Chair of the Infrastructure Working Group of the Digital Twin Consortium, to get the 101 on digital twins and the recent report – available to download soon.

Firstly, how do you define digital twins?
The term ‘digital twin’ is being used with increasing frequency, but with little consistency, across multiple industries today. To date, while many have built upon the term with their own opinions of its definition; I prefer to refer to the definition that was recently published through the Digital Twin Consortium:
A digital twin is a virtual representation of real-world entities and processes, synchronized at a specified frequency and fidelity.

  • Digital twin systems transform business by accelerating overall understanding, drive much better decision-making, and support actionable insights.
  • Digital twins use real-time and historical data to represent the past and present and simulate predicted futures.
  • Digital twins are motivated by outcomes, tailored to use cases, powered by integration, built on data, guided by domain knowledge, and should represent the way the world is.

Lendlease is a Founding Member of the Digital Twin Consortium

Why is digital twin technology such a game changer for the property and construction industries? 
As a Developer, you have a piece of land. There are many constraints on that land. With digital twins, we can digitise these constraints and building regulations by city or region. We can optimise that geometry and match it with what the market is willing to bear for rents or sales of the asset.
As a Constructor, my first observation is that other industries develop a design and then optimise it using a digital twin. So while that is definitely on the agenda, we're also talking about using the technology to automatically generate the design. We think we could increase efficiency by up to 20%.
As an Owner, digital twins are not just about cost and performance. They must drive improvements in safety - both during construction and operation. Humans have to remain centre point of safety. Although the trajectory is obvious, more and more connected devices are augmenting the construction process. Robotics can, and will, replace unsafe practices – an example being the lifting of heavy objects into a place safely on an automated path of travel where real-time data feedback loops provide accurate positioning. 
Digital twins will also help in the drive towards a sustainable, greener future - less waste and greater resource efficiency, as well as helping to drive data-based proof points, which is a key enabler of net zero and the circular economy in the built environment.
As Lendlease continues to develop Podium, the industry’s first end-to-end property lifecycle platform, how does the concept of digital twins fit into the picture?
Digital twins, and the information they carry are pivotal in ensuring seamless transition throughout the project lifecycle stages – enhancing and enriching the digital thread, providing predictive (closed loop performance) and performance metrics. The important aspect of a digital twin is thinking of them as a long-term asset, not just a tool for design or operations.

Our objective with Podium is creating a platform that enhances the value of digital twins, by enabling all the other business functions that make up the property value chain by enriching the digital thread (Scope, Cost, Schedule, Assets, Sustainability, Risk and supporting functions like Safely).

Design automation: Harnessing our proprietary CUBS™ standards, we can generate automated designs for our residential assets

Can you provide some examples of digital twin technology in action? 
Construction planning is overlaid on the digital twin. The construction manager has access to all the design information and can add into the twin selections of construction equipment, temporary works and site set up (fences, site sheds, safety barriers and first aid kiosks). They can build the project digitally, rehearsing any number of different approaches by interacting with the components in the digital twin. The planning tool is now an effective approach for practice and communication for the whole construction supply chain.    
Procurement is also now working from much deeper, richer, accurate design information. Accurate bill of materials can be produced prior to starting any construction processes, with the ability to use directly for manufacturing and logistical management purposes, eliminating the unnecessary recreation of information.
Being across both of your industry roles, what’s the state of digital twins in the broader sector?
I see a number of new technology providers, attracted to the bright lights of the industry, passionate to solve problems, owners unsure of their role in this new world, incumbent technology providers now marketing previous BIM offerings as digital twin, and members of the supply chain having varying degrees of maturity. 
Overall, the expectation is that digital twin technology will and can solve some of the industry’s more difficult problems.
This is one of the key gaps that the Digital Twin Consortium is trying to address – to provide guidance and a toolset to allow understanding of where you are, from an organisational structure and performance perspective in the use of digital twins and pathways to move forward. 
Are digital twins creating smarter, more autonomous buildings?

The evolution of the digital twin and platforms like Podium will eventually reach a point where technology will allow buildings to be truly autonomous. A sentience that will be able to seamlessly interact with the occupant of the building, the key to achieving this is that the right foundation must be put in at the point of project inception and managed throughout the lifecycle. It is important to understand that digital twins are key to autonomous outcomes, but by themselves they won’t get there.

What are the main challenges/hindrances to slowing down adoption?

We have described a future model, fuelled by emerging digital technology and free from the baggage of a recalcitrant industry. Brand new start we might say? The transition is key. How do you get from today’s way of working to this potential future?

Change management is crucial. Everyone will need to adapt to absorbing the technology. Roles will be impacted – some no longer necessary and other new roles created. Governments and authorities will need to move on from paper authorisation – seamless data exchange will be the order of the day.
And that does require examination of why things are the way they are. Which of these things cannot be ignored? In reality, the start is never new no matter how much we wish for it to be.
What does the industry need to do to fuel momentum?
The key is Owners. Owners have to demand that the industry follows these practices. 
Lastly, what excites you about digital twins?
We have seen other sectors move and absorb digital twin technology and have driven advancements in technology. The fact we can fly Perth to London directly can be attributed to the digital twin approach. What will it do to our cities, our houses, the infrastructure we interact with every day?

Available soon: How Digital Twins Breathe New Life - and Safety - into the Built World