Digital Innovation: Smart Products & Sustainability – The Role of Digital twins
Lead DIGIT Lab Academics: Professor Saeema Ahmed-Kristensen & Charlotte Markey (PhD Student & Green Urbanisation Innovation Manager, Polypipe)
This research focuses upon the use of digital technology to develop smart products and systems, particularly those addressing global challenges such as sustainability. Large-scale manufacturers within the construction sector have not historically been quick to explore, adopt, and promote innovative digital solutions as part of their service offer. The construction industry faces a plethora of challenges but is also afforded numerous opportunities from the political, societal and economic drivers towards sustainability and the legislative framework that now requires the implementation of high-quality green and blue infrastructure / nature-based solutions in the UK and beyond. However, with the increasing pressure to design and deliver products that are sustainable and can simultaneously manage water and support green infrastructure assets, some organisations have explored the potential to integrate digital technologies, and smart systems to optimise their physical product solutions and to deliver added value to the client and end user. Using a case study of a smart green blue roof pilot project in Greater Manchester, we have undertaken a series of twelve semi-structured interviews, with key stakeholders across the project. Making use of these algorithms and digital twin technology, this system presents a unique synthesis of smart technology and a nature-based solution.
Our findings highlight how ‘smart’ was understood by the multiple stakeholders involved in the project and how the product complexity is managed when digital technologies are integrated into nature-based solutions that are becoming more popularised in the construction sector. This integration of digital twin and sensor technologies with physical drainage products to create the next generation of smart green blue infrastructure, presents numerous challenges for organisations in the construction sector. Our findings show that smart systems of systems in the construction sector necessitate organisational change and new methods of knowledge transfer across organisations that work together to deliver holistic physical and digital services to the client.