Digital Twins in Construction: Towards an Ontological Model Development and Integration Framework

Funded by the Transforming Construction Network Plus (ESRC/UKRI)
Theme: Architecting the Digital Business
Researchers: Sergio de Cesare, Michael Dzandu, Rob Garvey and Peter Sharratt

Digital technologies have the potential to transform the landscape of the modern construction industry. While technological advancements, like the Internet of Things, provide the necessary digital infrastructure for enabling the physical collection of data, there currently exists limited methodological support for developing and integrating Digital Twins of built assets so that they can be easily shared across the entire industry.

This project will explore the adoption of a foundational ontology-driven framework to support the development and integration of digital twin models in the construction industry across the project lifecycle and across different organisations. Ontology - a branch of philosophy which studies the kinds of things that exist and their relationships - provides the theoretical underpinning to the framework. The framework will be developed by ontologically re-engineering existing digital twin models of built assets and demonstrating improved levels of integration among them. The research will be carried out in collaboration with relevant industrial stakeholders via two workshops aimed at initially understanding the barriers to model integration and subsequently to evaluate the developed framework. This project is highly interdisciplinary and brings together theory and knowledge from philosophy, computing and construction.

The digital business transformation project


Theme: Digital Transformation
Researchers: David Barnes, Sergio de Cesare, Fefie Dotsika, Najmeh Hafezieh (Royal Holloway University of London), Keith Patrick

The project will investigate the process of digital business transformation, that is the way in which business organisations undertake digital transformations. It aims to develop a best practice model for the process of digital transformation that could be used by any business organisation.  The research has five phases: (1) literature review, (2) empirical research within organisations to identify best practice, (3) methodological framework design, (4) framework evaluation within organisations, and (5) framework refinement.

Digital commerce in traditional industries

Theme: Digital Transformation
Researchers: Galina Gornostaeva and David Barnes

The project investigates how firms in traditional industries are adapting their operating models to incorporate the use of digital technologies.  We adopt the term ‘digital-commerce’ (D-commerce), to refer to channels of exhibiting, marketing and selling products online which includes e-commerce (long-adopted by most businesses) mobile commerce (to meet the needs of the youngest generations of customers) and social media platforms (which have the market place for new products coinciding with decline of traditional press and rise of Internet bloggers and influencers). Innovations involve various advanced techniques, such as visual search, email marketing, Instagram Stories, etc. It is expected that majority of players will soon integrate commerce functionality into social media (s-commerce), enabling direct-to-product journeys.

Ontological foundations of digital twins

Theme: Architecting the digital enterprise
Researchers: Sergio de Cesare, Fefie Dotsika and Michael Dzandu

A digital twin can be defined as a realistic digital representation of a physical thing. Originally conceived decades ago by NASA, digital twins have recently re-emerged in different industries, such as manufacturing and healthcare, thanks to the increased processing, storage and communication  capabilities of modern computing devices. While technological advancements, like the Internet of Things (IoT), provide the necessary digital infrastructure for collecting the necessary amounts of  data required to ensure realistic representations of their real-world counterparts, there currently exists no underlying theoretical model of digital twins capable of explaining what they are and how they relate to what they represent. This research adopts philosophical ontology to answer these questions and develops an ontology of digital twins that can be practically applied in an industrial context for purposes such as performance management and the integration of processes and systems.

Boundary spanning in platforms: the case study of cryptocurrencies on GitHub

Theme: Emerging digital technologies and platforms
Researchers: Farjam Eshraghian and Omid Omidvar-Tehrani (Aston Business School)

Boundary spanning describes the process of actors bridging organisational, disciplinary, and technological boundaries to access knowledge or to innovate. Often contributions have viewed boundaries from the point of view of the focal firm crossing boundaries. Nevertheless, not always boundary spanning is triggered internally. We ask what actions actors span boundaries over time and how they enact boundary spanning?

In this project, we contribute to boundary spanning research by enriching the understanding of routines for permeation and spanning of boundaries. In addition, this research contributes to platform research by extending the conceptualisation of boundaries and how they span across platforms. Our contribution will also be to the routines literature by exploring their dynamics and development in the context of platforms.

Stackelberg game theoretic models for joint optimisation in supply chain design

Theme: Emerging digital technologies and platforms

Researcher: Ray Wu

Any product in the market is sold to fulfil customers' needs. This forms an overall objective for a supply chain that develops and produces the product. On the other hand, each organisation in the supply chain has its own objectives aligning with the overall objective. Therefore, the product design and supply chain configuration decisions can be constructed as a bi-level joint programming model. The research uses Stackelberg game (leader-follower) theory and evolutionary (genetic) algorithms to obtain the equilibrium as a solution.

A case study of joint PFA (product family architecting) and the supply chain configuration for power transformers was conducted to demonstrate the feasibility and potential of the proposed Stackelberg game theoretic joint optimization of PFA and supply chain decisions. Another case study focuses on decisions of logistics in a supply chain of chilled and frozen goods.

3d printing impact in supply chain design

Theme: Emerging digital technologies and platforms

Researcher: Alan Pilkington

There is little doubt that the emergence of 3d printing or additive technology is a major part of Industry 4.0 and the digital transformation of business. However, it is important to cut through the early noise in the present hype cycle and understand exactly how and where the technology presents opportunities as firms collaborate and integrate processes either with peers or in the supply chain.

This project is examining 3D printing technologies and processes to develop a structured way of recording possible impact and recommending actions for managers. The changes arising from 3d printing includes more than just new options for product design, but also shifts in the manufacturing eco-system and choices for restructuring competitive dynamics. Areas currently being explored include customization due to very late production and design cycles, allowing innovative design ideas (e.g. previously impossible cooling channels in injection molds), the abolition of a need to hold inventory (particularly in spare parts), changing import duties (parts are made locally from generic materials and not transported over boarders), and challenging the need for logistics (making items at hubs means there is no need for shipping).