An exact 3D model replica was made of the Met Office’s weather balloon facility in Camborne
The Met Office has worked with Skanska to create a digital twin of a weather balloon facility in Cornwall. CM finds out more.
Since 1854, the Met Office has been providing meteorological services for the UK and beyond – from supplying scientific data to businesses through to analysing the impact of climate change.
With 2,000 employees in total, around 400 based outside the UK, it has a vast and diverse estate – and has become one of the market leaders in using digital technology to inform its asset management strategy. That includes development of digital twins for some of its buildings.
“Innovation is really important for us, because it means we can do things much more efficiently,” says Ralph James, FM and technical services manager, who spoke at last year’s Digital Construction Summit about how BIM had benefited his organisation.
“I like to think we’re an early adopter of new technology,” says James. “I was really interested in how the Met Office might benefit from digital twins.”
A digital twin is a highly accurate 3D model with a range of technical data. The Met Office, working with Skanska, has created a digital twin of its weather balloon facility at Camborne in Cornwall.
“We are really excited about the prospect of digital twins and have set up a new service offering called Digital Estates,” explains Peter Jones, technical director of Skanska Building.
“We have the in-house expertise to convert the existing building assets of estates like universities and government departments into asset-rich digital models – IoT enabled – and then use the model to more efficiently manage the building. We expect this to be able to save operational and maintenance costs on existing buildings by up to 30%.”
Laser scans of the facility
The Met Office scheme at Camborne was one of Skanska’s earliest digital twin projects. Building information modelling was used throughout the process. The first stage was to create an exact 3D model replica, using laser scans of the actual facility, and then operational and maintenance data was added.
“Having a digital twin enables us to cut costs significantly,” says James. “We have another balloon site, which we need to replace. We can use the digital twin to cut out lots of the design work. There are other benefits, too. For example, at Camborne we know the condition of single components, their remaining useful life, replacement cost and unique identity.”
Operational and maintenance data was added to the BIM model
The Met Office has over 450 weather reporting stations – some in remote places such as Lerwick in the Shetland Islands. It also has 16 weather radars.
“My ambition is to create a digital twin for all our sites,” says James. “That will help us direct our resources in the most efficient way possible to ensure the sites remain operational and safe. Another major benefit of this approach is that you get very robust lifecycle planning. You know, with certainty, the lifespan of your assets and when they need to be replaced.
“If you know what’s there, you can make sure your engineer has the right part for any maintenance work. But it’s also about condition-based maintenance – knowing if a component is about to fail or provide a degraded service – which again could lead to significant long-term savings.”
Next, James is eyeing the potential of the internet of things, where devices are linked up over a computer network. This allows operators to find out how that device is performing in real time, or even control it remotely. Mobile phone giant Ericsson predicts that, by 2022, there will be around 18 billion devices connected to the internet of things.
“We have the in-house expertise to convert the existing building assets of estates like universities and government departments into asset-rich digital models and then use the model to more efficiently manage the building”
Peter Jones, Skanska Building
“The internet of things is really exciting, because of the opportunities it opens up,” James says. “We have lots of remote, unmanned, sites – in some cases, quite literally, on top of a mountain. Knowing something as specific as the state of health of a pump, uninterruptible power supply or the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment, is something that would be really useful, from a maintenance perspective.
“But you can go further than that. Take, for example, occupancy sensors in the floor of a building. They could measure how many people are there, send and update to the building management system, alter the amount of heat or cooling being provided for that area of the building, because it knows how many people are there. That would be a great way of using technology to improve efficiency.”
Supply chain management
Research by the Met Office shows a high level of trust in the organisation – around 80% – from the general public, so supply chain management is crucial for the organisation.
“It’s really important that our suppliers understand what the Met Office does, and the impact of that on our customers,” adds James. “We’re always explaining to our suppliers what we do. We want them to understand the bigger picture. It’s like the cleaner at NASA, who told President Kennedy – in response to the question ‘what are you doing?’ – that he was ‘helping to put man on the moon’.
“We took this approach when we were building our collaboration building at the Exeter Science Park. From the person painting the wall to the person laying slabs in the courtyard, we said: ‘You’re helping to advance UK science by 10 years, this is not just another job. You’re part of that advance. Every time you see one of our weather forecasts, you know you’ve had a small part in that.
“I think that approach did make a difference. Plus, the Met Office has such a strong brand, for our suppliers to be associated with great delivery – it’s a real positive impact on their business.
“I believe that close collaboration with suppliers, being completely open and transparent, leads to us getting a better service. For me, it’s about getting what you see on the side of the tin. To ensure that, I think you need an evidence-based approach.”
Returning to innovation, James wants suppliers to be forward-thinking and, if possible, visionary: “The whole of the industry is there to provide an environment where people can thrive and do the very best they can. And new technology has a big part to play in that.”