The Future of Urban Maintenance: Digital Twins

The intersection of the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud computing is revolutionising systems and processes across various manufacturing sectors, from aerospace to general manufacturing, influencing design, production, and maintenance (Tao et al., 2019). While the construction sector recognises the essential role of digital transition for urban governance, its adoption is hindered by the complexities of built systems, diverse stakeholders, and evolving construction technologies. Nevertheless, academics acknowledge that digitalisation applied to maintenance and management holds the potential to significantly enhance the quality of built environments and business operations.

Exploring the potential and limitations of current digital twin (DT) applications for urban maintenance is particularly insightful, as it underscores the feasibility of scenarios that seamlessly blend the real world with virtual models. 

The concept of DT opens up new horizons for maintenance planning in the building sector, supporting policymakers and professionals in controlling space behaviour based on user needs and providing maintenance interventions aligned with detected performance (Zheng et al., 2020). McKinsey (2015) projects that DTs in urban care processes could yield potential savings of up to $630 billion in the construction market by 2025, emphasising the need for strong predictive capabilities to assess current and future states and predict failures (Tjønn, 2019).

Already assisting managers and technicians in decision-making through real-time simulations of adaptive scenarios, digital twins are developed as integrated multi-physics, multi-scale, and probabilistic simulations. They leverage advanced sensors and the best physical models to mirror the real-life behaviour of their counterparts (Glaessgen and Stargel, 2012). In the era of smart cities, they enable the prediction of future performance by implementing predictive models and simulating the impact of design solutions.

Digital twins emerge as strategic tools for adopting innovative and sustainable management strategies in urban systems. They facilitate daily monitoring through sensors, measurement technologies, and the Internet of Things (IoT), offering control over the built system and an interface for managing past and present operations while predicting the future.

Digitalisation, especially through DT, presents an opportunity to catalyse and monitor the transformation and development of cities with a focus on circular economy and sustainability. 

In a scenario characterised by collaborative approaches to built environment management, extending the data acquisition process to involve citizens in defect detection is a research hypothesis being explored in a test DT under development in the old port area of Genoa

Since the 1990s, the scientific community has worked towards involving administrators, companies, and users in a technical, cultural, and social process capable of managing the stratification and interconnection that characterise the built environment. 

The Digital Twin serves as an environment where administration can accurately simulate and plan activities to ensure a healthy, safe, and comfortable urban space for visitors and workers, in addition to efficient resource management, and sustainability. 

Beyond being strategic tools for urban management, digital twins bridge the gap between administration and citizens, fostering awareness about building and infrastructure maintenance. This promotes active participation in constructing more resilient and sustainable communities and encourages collaborative governance of the built environment.  

As technology advances, the interaction between Digital Twins and citizenship becomes a crucial aspect in shaping smarter and greener cities of the future. This synergy enhances the quality of the urban environment, resource management, and makes cities more interconnected, efficient, and ecologically sustainable. 

ETT S.p.A. Digital Strategy & Design
ETT uses design, storytelling and cutting-edge technology to create unique experiences and to establish a connection between places and people using immersive experiences. The company designs IT systems and creates and manages vast quantities of data from complex sources.
ETT S.p.A. Digital Strategy & Design
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