Smart Building Defined 

The term ‘smart building’ has been gaining traction in the automation world in recent years, so let’s make sure we’re on the same page regarding what we mean when we say, “smart building” and then we’ll discuss its value. A smart building is defined as a set of dynamically connected smart systems that are made interoperable through accumulating, sharing, analyzing, and acting upon collective automation system data. When designed properly and effectively, the smart building platform will result in a more efficient, secure, and productive asset that has the capacity to continuously improve over its lifetime. Since the traditionally used siloed organization of data no longer works effectively in our present day and connected world, we now need buildings that are about services and inter-parties. We need smart buildings.

So, let’s look at the value of a smart building from the perspective of its inter-parties - the landlords, facility managers, and occupants – and the services it provides. The value for landlords is to maintain the heritage value of the buildings, strengthen the attractiveness of housing, and improve the comfort and the wellbeing of the occupants. The value to facility managers involves control; optimization of operations, maintenance and costs; and continuous improvement of the energy efficiency of the building. And for the occupants, the value of a smart building is about offering adaptability to each occupant’s individual needs to ensure comfort in their living or work space. Now for an explanation of digital twin. 

Digital Twin Defined

If you work in industrial processes or manufacturing and are intimately familiar with the related technology, you probably hear this term all the time these days. For those who may be less familiar, let’s begin with the analog idea of a “digital twin”, which has been around for quite some time. It can be traced back to the 1960s when NASA would build replicas of its spacecrafts to simulate and study for better understanding about the craft’s functioning and to address other practical issues and potential problems. A good example can be seen in the movie “The Martian” by Ridley Scott, starring Matt Damon. Matt Damon’s character Dr. Mark Watney is presumed dead after an accident during a tremendous storm on Mars’ surface and is left by his crew. Later, the crew and NASA find out Mark is alive on Mars, so they must figure out how to retrieve him before he starves. The NASA team needs to solve many technically difficult problems with highly unusual circumstances. And they do this by building an actual model of the spacecraft Mark Watney must use to get off the planet. With this method, AKA digital twin technology at its foundation, they gained improved awareness and insight into how to solve the problem. Additionally, on another very basic digital twin level, product and process engineering teams commonly use 2D/3D renderings and process simulations as essential parts of their activities in understanding and managing operations.

However, a more technical/precise definition of a digital twin is this: A virtual model designed to accurately reflect physical equipment. The equipment being studied is outfitted with value sensors related to its functionality. These sensors produce data about distinct aspects critical to the asset’s performance such as energy, temperature, and default status of each piece of equipment like an automatic valve. Data is integrated to a processing system and applied to a digital copy. The digital twin or virtual representation of a system or object is updated with real-time data and uses machine learning, simulation, and reasoning. Once all this happens, the data needs to be managed. These values can include rate of change, threshold limits, targets, and historical patterns.

ICONICS & Microsoft Provide Complementary Technology

ICONICS and Microsoft complement each other well when it comes to digital twin applications. ICONICS plays at two levels, the first is data management to improve building productivity and overall performance. The second is building KPIs and graphical replicas to aid facility operations and expectations. ICONICS technology offers comprehensive IoT platform and software solutions for smart buildings that are based on the Azure Digital Twins component which allows the integration of various third-party or proprietary solutions to which the sensors of different buildings and structures are connected. The Microsoft Azure Digital Twins platform provides services such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), analytics, and it also provides scalability. Another important aspect of digital twin applications is cybersecurity which is unmatched security and compliance that ensures access and security of your data.

ICONICS’ portfolio natively integrates with Microsoft Azure to provide both cloud scalability and security from your devices to the edge and onto the cloud. Overall, this flexible and scalable access to information can be used to make data-driven decisions. Operational management is therefore transformed through highly enhanced decision making about equipment and operations. Of course, there is more to this technology, which is explained in one of our ICONICS Transform 360 webcasts “Make Better Decisions about Your Operations and Equipment with Digital Twins.”

How ICONICS Software & Azure Digital Twins Technology Work for Smart Buildings

Traditionally, ICONICS users take their data from their smart buildings and push it to the cloud using ICONICS GENESIS64 in their on-premises systems. To use digital twin technology, what ICONICS did was instead of pushing the data into GENESIS64, we push it into a cloud application, a native cloud application based on Microsoft Azure Digital Twins. We use our gateway technology, ICONICS IoTWorX, to collect the data, which is then uploaded automatically in the Azure digital twin. Instead of having an on-premises system, which is not scalable and therefore not practical or flexible, a better idea is to have cloud native solutions and applications, which are scalable, flexible, and secure, and which allow your data to be available everywhere because – it’s in the cloud.

Moreover, you can have continuous integration for these applications since your data is in the cloud. And using standard communication channels, you can get the data in any way you’d like, for any use you need. You can create artificial intelligence, machine learning, and analytics. You can therefore calculate faults and energy consumption, generate alarms, or visualize your data through highly customizable dashboards. Then your engineers and operators can use this data to understand what’s going on in your operations and to respond quickly to any issue. With this technology, users have the freedom to create and leverage their own value-added solutions.

The data is in the cloud thanks to ICONICS IoTWorX, and once in the cloud, you can maximize the meaning of the data – it’s completely expandable and available everywhere. This increased accessibility and flexibility provides additional opportunities for insights to make data-driven decisions. And ultimately, this technology will lead you and your team to significant optimization throughout your operations.

Expanding the Digital Twin Concept to Factory Automation

To this point in the article, we’ve talked about how ICONICS software and Azure Digital Twins are being used for smart building automation. But ICONICS is expanding the concept to make it available for smart factory automation as well. These days, it can take hours, days, or even months of engineering time to onboard a factory. In the future, the goal is to use ICONICS software and Azure Digital Twins in factories to automatically configure, ingest, and publish data into the cloud without requiring all those hours of engineering time. This will be a huge savings of resources, personal hours, and money.

Industry 4.0 Smart Core Technologies Are Essential to Success

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of what digitalizing your smart building with ICONICS software and Azure Digital Twins means. Smart processes and operations as part of Industry 4.0 are here to stay and most definitely represent the future of the industry. Being able to implement the core technologies that are fundamental to these such as ICONICS GENESIS64 and Azure Digital Twins is essential for you to make better decisions about your operations and equipment. And are crucial for the operational outcomes you’re aiming for like increased efficiency and reduced energy consumption, costs, and downtime, and for better problem solving and maintenance planning, i.e., operational optimization. As a result, you and your organizations will to be able to compete and most importantly to thrive and succeed in your respective industrial markets.

For a more thorough explanation of how to use digital twin technology for your smart building, you can watch our webcast “Make Better Decisions about Your Operations and Equipment with Digital Twins.” You’ll also learn about an excellent use case involving one of ICONICS customers, Bouygues Energies & Services, and see a demonstration involving this use case.