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Digital Twins – The Indispensable Alter-Ego

As technology rapidly increases the pace, so too does our ability to mirror real-world physical products, services or persons to ensure precision and top performance. Thanks to advancements like the internet of things (IoT), digital twin technology has evolved to provide just this, the creation of an exact virtual counterpart.

No longer just 3-D modeling through computer-aided design (CAD), this use of simulated prototyping is a convergence of technologies used to inform optimization.

What exactly is a digital twin?

A digital twin can be just about anything. Defined as an exact virtual replica of the real world, it is meant to serve as a bridge between the physical and digital world, using IoT, AI, machine learning and software analytics to collect data in real-time. Using data from connected sensors, and applying information collected from other sources, this technology allows for analysis that leads to effective predictions to better understand how products or processes perform today, as well as how they will perform in the future. Bringing together data and algorithms with context, allows companies to test new ideas and problem solve. The virtual environments enable organizations to more effectively answer new questions as well as remotely monitor elements.

Digital twins are made up of three components, including a data model, analytics or algorithms, and knowledge. The IoT sensors can immediately send data from an object to the digital twin, ensuring that as conditions the object experiences change, so to can the digital twin. Computer-aided engineering (CAE) allows for the creation of a digital duplicate which is able to embody the characteristics of a physical object, person or process, but it is not intended to replace the original, rather it is meant to create an environment to understand and optimize.

The concept is derived from NASA’s pairing technology, which was developed to account for operation, repairs, and maintenance for spacecraft that obviously travel far from the range of physical monitoring. The ill-fated Apollo 13 mission is a key application of the paired approach, where “twin” systems were used to allow engineers and astronauts to test repairs necessary to bring the crew home safely.

Over time, this approach evolved conceptually with a focus on research and development through information mirroring. This progressed into a digital simulation and the ability to create 3-D models. However, the connection to IoT brought unification from the physical world to digital. Today, the ability to mix reality, cognition and AI have blended human and machine collaboration.

Impact on Business

Building upon NASA’s pairing technology of the 1970s, digital twin technology is evolving rapidly, creating limitless possibilities. Like many organizations, NASA is looking toward digital twin technology to develop, test and construct in a virtual environment before producing their equipment. The ability for companies to test their what-if scenarios and experiment with their ideas in real-world conditions is the promise of digital twins, aimed at revolutionizing product development, process design, and facilities.

Comprehensive testing before implementation through the digital representation of actual environments and conditions can not only save money but lead to greater innovations and break boundaries. As the costs associated with IoT, sensors and the underlying networks that support them continue to decrease, the overall cost for digital twins has reduced. Once a digital twin is a development, it can help reduce downtime, save firms time and money, and answer key strategic questions. They can also reduce risk, increase reliability, decrease maintenance costs, and improve efficiency (ultimately reducing costs).

This approach to optimization can improve overall value for products, processes, and services. The use of digital twins gives organizations greater awareness and understanding of their approaches or operations in the context of the ecosystem they function in. The value of this data is astounding, as it empowers companies to better prepare and predict future events, adapts their processes and generally be more responsive.

Future Applications

It is clear that digital twin technology provides remarkable and limitless possibilities for optimization and creation both at organizational levels and in the built environment. This technology will be a vital disrupter for many industries, and for companies already using IoT, this is the logical evolution of the digital expedition.

Radical changes to business models are likely, as this ability to prototype and explore offers companies the opportunity to take the technological journey “through the looking glass.” Gartner predicts that by 2020, 21 billion connected sensors will be used, allowing for digital twins to make billions of things possible. By 2021 they have further predicted that at least half of all large companies in the industrial sector will be using digital twins, which will result in an estimated 10 percent improvement in effectiveness.

Digital twins are truly the indispensable alter ego revolutionizing testing and innovation.

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