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How to Use HVAC Digital Twins for Better Facility Operations

Digital twins provide improved visibility by facilitating planning, preparedness and predictions. Many people are increasingly interested in using them to monitor critical assets, like heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Here are some compelling ways to take that approach when using a digital twin for facility management.

Justify Planned Upgrades

It’s not always easy to get decision-makers to agree to HVAC system modernization, even when technicians and other knowledgeable parties insist it’s necessary. However, a digital twin could get people on board by showing them what to expect. It could then become easier to quantify an upgrade’s benefits, making them realize it’s time to act.

One example came from a hospital in the United Kingdom, where leaders used a digital twin to identify the reason for excessive gas usage. The simulation revealed poor performance from heating distribution systems was behind the problem.

The digital twin also indicated that moderate investments to improve the system could save 10 million kilowatt-hours of energy and £285,000 annually. Later estimates suggested the savings could be even higher since the hospital ended its fixed-price energy contract around the same time it made the HVAC enhancements.

Applying a digital twin for facility management can make leaders feel more confident about approving requested upgrades. Although a digital twin can’t reveal the future with certainty, it allows people to run highly realistic simulations and see the probable outcomes of various scenarios. That’s particularly useful if people are trying to choose between many equipment models or configurations for their upgrades.

See the Results of Possible Actions

Once facility managers get approval for HVAC system optimization, they may still need help deciding which steps to take. That’s particularly true if people have trouble determining which one of two or more options is the optimal choice.

University officials faced this common dilemma and used an HVAC digital twin to help solve it. They performed an energy audit, and the simulations enabled them to determine which of several possibilities would result in the best outcomes.

The decision-makers had several primary options: Tweak the system’s start and stop times, close the building’s upper floors during low-occupancy periods, perform an HVAC upgrade or proceed with a basic electrical retrofit. Running simulations for those possibilities allowed them to quantify the likely results.

The digital twin revealed that the HVAC upgrade would save an estimated 23% on energy and carbon emissions. That was significantly more than some of the other options. For example, the electrical retrofit would bring only a 9% improvement. Campus leaders decided to try some of the alternatives before proceeding with the HVAC upgrade. However, once they decide it’s time to update their HVAC system, they’ll already have the data revealing the probable outcomes.

Build New Facilities Faster

Leaders ready to break ground on new construction projects signify companies are in a growth period or will enter one soon. Using a digital twin for facility management can help them create new facilities to accommodate increasing demand with fewer hassles.

Getting the finer details right is essential when planning an HVAC system for a new building. If the system’s size is too small, parts could prematurely fail because it runs too often to meet climate control requirements. People must also investigate specifics, such as whether the structure has high-heat zones or areas with specific air quality requirements.

It’s not easy to keep track of all those things. A digital twin can facilitate the task, allowing users to input various bits of information, run proposed scenarios and see the results. Everyone from building designers to facility managers and HVAC technicians can give feedback that goes into the digital twin and shows realistic scenarios. This approach can save people from much of the trial and error that often comes with many construction projects.

 Leaders at a well-known automaker use digital twins to create building blueprints for better planning when constructing new factories. Some team members used digital twins of HVAC and plumbing systems during the early construction phases. That allowed them to solve problems that might have otherwise caused delays in real life.

A digital twin is also helpful for verifying if a piece of equipment, such as an air conditioner or boiler, will fit into specific spaces along with other surrounding assets. A tape measure can show whether something will work, but a digital twin goes further and can help people analyze things like traffic flow.

Benefit From Longer-Lasting Products

The manufacturing industry allowed digital twins to gain momentum and prominence in other sectors. Product designers and other professionals can use simulations to ensure quality and detect potential weaknesses. Just as someone may use a digital twin for facility management to optimize a building’s performance, product developers do the same thing to create the best versions of commercial offerings.

In one example, researchers used a digital twin to learn how an air conditioner handled mechanical stimuli, such as those subjected during normal operations. The researchers also explored conditions that could make the unit’s plastic crack. Knowing these things before production occurs allows the design team to take corrective actions to make the air conditioner as durable as possible.

Design team members could also incorporate this knowledge into product instructions, explicitly warning users not to do things the digital twin indicated would cause undue strain on the appliance. Manufacturers may use the details to determine the appropriate warranty to offer on the air conditioner or to specify the conditions that would negate it.

Ultimately, such premanufacturing testing helps facility managers by putting more high-quality, carefully designed products on the market for them to consider.

How Will You Use a Digital Twin for Facility Management?

These examples highlight many ways to enhance facility management operations with digital twins. However, you have the best chance of getting great results by taking enough time to think about how these options could help you overcome existing challenges. It’s also necessary to give yourself and other users ample opportunity to get used to digital twin tools and begin exploring how to apply them.

Emily Newton
Emily Newton
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, an online magazine celebrating advances in science and technology.

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