In the current environment — with staffing reductions and remote work being performed at unprecedented levels — various facilities present the need to be managed from off-site locations by fewer employees. Using Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology could allow facility management work to be continued from off-site, thus reducing potential for exposure to the new coronavirus.

The BIM process was originally developed as a tool to assist architects and engineers in creating 3D models for more efficient planning and design of facilities. Even in its infancy, BIM promised to be useful far into the operation of a facility, offering benefits beyond construction and design.

But only in the last five years have models begun to be used effectively in a facility management role. Now, by utilizing these models to build digital representations of the physical and functional aspects of a facility, or digital twins, facility owners are finding opportunities to reap the benefits of continued operation, even in times of disruption. When combined with other technologies — and when considering the new reality — these tools provide a way forward.

Combining With Other Technologies

Using other technologies alongside BIM creates new opportunities. For example, by using augmented and virtual reality, RealWear headsets have the capability to feed a live video stream to various remote locations from a single user. Combining a facility management model, or digital twin, with this technology requires only a single worker to be on-site while other team members view the facility management model from off-site locations. In this way, information can be shared to assist in analysis, design and various other facility needs.

It may also be beneficial to combine BIM data with other information, such as lidar scans or photogrammetry gathered by unmanned aerial systems (UAS). Such systems are particularly useful during times of social distancing, as sites can be evaluated remotely from the air. Data gathered in this way can be combined with BIM to lay out new facilities remotely for those locations.

Reconfiguring Facilities

There are many opportunities for using digital twins as we slowly begin to reemerge from our home isolations. Office spaces will likely see an enormous shift when employees return to work. Understanding how to reconfigure an office to manage the amount of space required for each employee to maintain social distancing can be accomplished using a digital twin to virtually shift and reorganize spaces. Adapting spaces quickly to meet changing needs will be imperative to minimizing business risk.

In a hospital or facility that might potentially serve as a hospital, reconfiguring flows of people and spaces to allow for COVID-19 testing before entry or separation of non-COVID-19 patients can be accomplished inside the digital twin. Additionally, attributes of a facility can be attached to key elements to build out the computerized maintenance management system, allowing operators to track work orders and verify that assets are operating within parameters.

Readying Facilities for the New Reality

The loss of revenue during this crisis is a real issue for businesses; bringing people back together when it’s all over will be easier said than done. Easing back into a new normal — while still allowing teams to work effectively — means understanding your facilities and spaces, and the capabilities of the technology available. BIM and facility management models, or digital twins, provide one solution for continued remote work and for reimagining existing spaces to ready them for the new reality.

Steve Cline is a projects director at Burns & McDonnell with experience in transforming BIM models into digital twins for use in making the management of facilities more efficient and effective.