The first law of thermodynamics declares that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Similarly, the Law of Conservation of Mass states the same about matter—that amid physical and chemical changes, the same amount exists before and after. By that token, if we could develop a digital snapshot of all matter and energy, we could create a digital twin for the universe. By applying the laws of physics, through software, we could then test limitless scenarios.

BIM coordination models, including steel structures and as-built structures, allow facade providers to see where components and anchors are out of tolerance before fabrication construction. Photo courtesy of Enclos.

At this point, such a concept is little more than science fiction. But on a much smaller scale, that’s precisely how architects, engineers and curtainwall suppliers design many of today’s buildings. By using cloud-enabled software platforms for building information modeling (BIM), designers now explore and create buildings and facades in virtual, collaborative realms, before embarking on fabrication. In the process, digital twins allow architects and façade manufacturers to explore the limits of glass and metal, while ensuring that products will perform—and fit—as planned.

The same data also allows curtainwall suppliers to track and test components across lifecycles and building managers to ensure operations work according to design.

“You’re creating a digital representation of something that [later] exists in the physical world,” says Marty Doescher, business consultant and senior director for Dassault Systèmes, a French multinational software corporation that develops applications for 3D product design, simulation and fabrication.

By combining data from digital twins with real-time measurements, after a building is constructed, “You know if the heat on the glass reaches a certain temperature, and the sensor picks that up, then the model, as a kind of control logic, says ‘okay, at that temperature close the blinds,’” Doescher says. In this way, “A digital twin is kind of a way to coordinate all of the things that are happening with the physical objects.”

A Big Leap Forward

For an industry that started on paper, then graduated to computerized 2D and 3D design, BIM and digital twinning represent the next step in computer aided design (CAD).

“Our company has been around for 50 years, and for a lot of those years the majority of buildings were square boxes,” says Ian Venegas, principal for Curtain Wall Design & Consulting Inc., headquartered in Dallas.

As software improved, buildings grew more sophisticated, Venegas says. In this way, the relationship between BIM software and curtainwall design is symbiotic.

“It used to be a building would either be a flat wall, or it would be sloping,” he says. “Or, it would have an inverted slope. And that’s about it, right? Now we have the ability to do some very crazy geometry and intense transitions between different systems, with surfaces warping or twisting.”

When BIM first arrived, the industry was attempting to go from a drawing- to a model-based means of working, Doescher says. After being trained as an architect, “I realized that the key to the industry transformation is to evolve the adoption of these digital tools in a new way of working,” he says.

By 2000-02, Doescher was working on his first integration project, where the architect was modeling in BIM and the facade company was creating shop drawings in a BIM-like software via his company’s platform. “We were connecting those two things, digitally,” he says.

Then, sometime around 2008-10, Revit, a BIM application by AutoCAD, started showing up.

In its earliest days, BIM software “had a lot of limitations,” Venegas says. But flash forward to 2023 and now it’s an industry standard—if not a requirement—for most projects, he says.

“I don’t think there’s a job we do anymore where there isn’t a BIM requirement,” says Joe Bartels, vice president of engineering for Enclos, a glazier and custom curtainwall provider based in Eagan, Minn. “The general contractor will almost always now have a contractual obligation where you have to do it. And not just us, but the architect and the general contractor will have to do all of the coordination. They then designate all of the trades…”

You can read more in the December issue of USGlass magazine.

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