How do Digital Twins and the BMS work hand in hand to improve building performance and efficiency?

14 March 2024
How do Digital Twins and the BMS work hand in hand to improve building performance and efficiency?

The Digital Twin concept is experiencing explosive growth across various industries and has a unique value proposition in the realm of buildings. Together with the Building Management Systems (BMS), the Digital Twin brings forth many benefits that simplify the life of an operator or building manager. This blog will clearly outline the enhancements that intelligent platforms like Digital Twins can add to the BMS, showing how these technologies work hand in hand to elevate building performance and efficiency.

What is a BMS?

A Building Management System (BMS) or Building Automation System (BAS) is a system installed within buildings to monitor and regulate the various building systems. BMS technology and its connectivity extends across all types, sizes, and functions of facilities. Ultimately, a BMS acts as a central hub, gathering data from sensors and devices throughout the building and using it to automate functions, control devices and send alerts. In the last decade the BMS has evolved to Integrated Building Management System (IBMS), from being just a standalone application system to an integrated one by integrating with all possible data source from different applications.

The BMS operates in three layers: the management layer (layer 1) contains the human interface and acts as data management, storing historical and real-time data. This layer differentiates the BMS from the IBMS where data from different applications are integrated. The automation layer (layer 2) provides primary communication and control, consisting of hardware and software such as automation and supervisor controllers, field controllers, and built-in software applications, which bridge the field layer and management layer. Finally, the field layer (layer 3) consists of physical sensors, actuators, and application-specific controllers directly connected to equipment for mentoring and controlling equipment, which continuously measures and monitors physical parameters such as temperature, pressure, and humidity.

What is a Digital Twin?

A digital twin is a digital mirror of a physical asset or building. The journey of a digital twin begins far earlier than its physical counterpart and starts during the design process. A digital twin forms a common data environment for both the design phase and operation phase, achieved through the integration of various data sources such as Building Information Model (BIM), design simulation, construction data, warranty & maintenance, information technology, operating technology, historical and real-time data from different Building Management Systems such as HVAC, lighting, physical security, electrical, utility meters, life safety, communications, other external applications and computerized maintenance management system – to name a few. Below are the different degrees of digital twin sophistication and the current maturity of digital twins.

Each type of digital twin has its own purpose and complexity. It’s always recommended to consult a Digital Twin specialist to identify which type of twin is better suited for the expected outcomes. 

How do the Digital Twin and BMS work hand in hand to improve building performance and efficiency? 

Platform / Application Capabilities

The BMS industry has made massive progress at all three fundamental layers and has come a long way to enhance its management layer to suit multiple integrations. Nevertheless, a significant gap exists in contextualizing integrated data to improve building efficiency. At a core level, the BMS application is purpose-built to cater to specific building operations or functions, and altering its purpose-built infrastructure to churn these integrated data to enhance the building operations and performance is still a big challenge. A Digital Twin platform can bridge this gap. The primary purpose of a Digital Twin platform is to efficiently handle a big data environment (i.e., enormous amounts of data generated during the entire building life cycle) and establish the proper context and relationship among the data. Thus, the Digital Twin platform acts as a building operating system that holds the entire building life cycle data in a proper context for a single pane of glass, monitoring and working as a common ground for advanced analytics and AI/ ML to improve building efficiency and day-to-day operations. For instance, The Digital Twin platform, with the help of advanced analytics, can identify inefficient systems not just at a single application system level but at the entire building level in a Unified User Interface (i.e., a single interface for multiple applications within a building), which will significantly help to optimize the maintenance process and allow the user to make an informed decision on the required capital expenditure to improve building operations.

Improved Building Operations:

  • Seamless knowledge transfer– The BMS application may have limitations in holding the complete lifecycle data of an asset, system, or building. Even if an existing document repository is used, it may not be linked to an asset. Digital Twins hold the entire lifecycle data of an asset, such as location, date of installation, design data, manufacturer details, maintenance details, document repository, historical and real-time data, and calculated data. This will help the user document the information in a structured format and have it readily available for another user with minimal knowledge about the building. So, when a maintenance team arrives at a facility to handle a work order, instead of going through multiple documents and applications to identify the location, design and operational details of an asset before stating maintenance work, these details are readily available to the user in the Digital Twin platform, significantly reducing maintenance duration.
  • Enabling remote operation– The current infrastructure of a BMS application allows remote monitoring, but it requires a competent person to handle each specific application. The Unified User Interface and standardized alarm/ insight management features of Digital Twins allow the user to monitor the entire building operation through one single platform. For example, a typical Facilities Management (FM) team needs a BMS specialist, physical security specialist, and EMS specialist to view three separate applications. Using Digital Twin software, however, they can monitor all data simultaneously and access specific applications to make critical interventions. Thus, enabling seamless remote monitoring and operation of the entire building.
  • Facilitating intra-system operation– Digital Twin allows bi-directional data flow between different systems for improved operation, which may not be possible with all BMS applications. For example, when an employee enters the building, the data from the access control system can be used in the HVAC system, lighting system, and kitchen system to adapt the office space for the employee’s arrival.
  • Reactive to predictive maintenance process transition– The data from BMS applications are used for reactive maintenance. The Digital Twin platform, powered with advanced analytics and AI/ ML models, can analyze vast volumes of data from different applications and detect abnormal behavior or consumption patterns to predict potential failures and critical operations. The prediction results combined with real-time/ near real-time recommendations can streamline the entire maintenance process, reduce equipment downtime, and improve the asset operation.  For example, the Digital Twin platform can automatically identify abnormal solar panel power generation patterns and benchmark them against solar power availability to schedule a maintenance task in the CMMS system. This transition from a reactive to a predictive approach streamlines the maintenance process by regulating maintenance and improves solar panel power generation efficiency.
  • Simulation and Forecasting – BMS applications may pose a challenge while feeding the data to the simulation engine or directly incorporating the simulation environment within its existing infrastructure. But it can be quickly addressed using the Digital Twin platform as it holds all required design (static) and operational (dynamic) data and uses building physics, simulation tools, and AI / ML models to simulate real-time energy consumption targets or future state what-if scenarios. This allows the user to better understand how the building’s energy consumption pattern changes with occupancy. The simulation and forecasting feature is a unique value proposition of the Digital Twin platform.
  • Intelligent Insight Management and Alarm Remediation– The BMS application issues alarms and warnings at an asset level, resulting in high alarms, false triggers and duplicate warnings. The Digital Twin, coupled with the Fault Detection and Diagnostic (FDD) engine, analyses these alarms and warnings at an entire asset ecosystem level to diagnose and identify the root cause and prescribe required recommendations to alleviate these issues. For example, an AHU can’t maintain the supply air temperature at its setpoint and is serving fifty VAV boxes – in the BMS, it will generate an alarm at AHU and fifty VAV, but the Digital Twin will analyze these alarms to identify the exact root cause, provide actionable data-driven insight to mitigate the problem, and suppress false alarms at fifty VAV. This feature is a considerable help for the facility management team to handle alarms or faults efficiently.


A more intelligent building

The integration of Digital Twins and Building Management Systems (BMS) brings numerous benefits that can improve building performance and efficiency. The Digital Twin platform acts as a building operating system that efficiently handles big data and establishes the proper context and relationship among the data. This allows for advanced analytics and AI/ ML to optimize building operations and maintenance processes, leading to informed decision-making and improved building efficiency. The seamless interaction between the BMS and Digital Twin platform further enhances the building’s lifecycle data, allowing for a unified user interface and holistic view of the building’s operations. As such, the integration of the Digital Twin and BMS is a promising solution that can simplify the life of the operator or building manager and elevate building performance and efficiency.