The need for digital twins was foreseen way back in 90’s when we started using computers for automation. In the past two decades our society and organizations have gone to great lengths in making hyper automation possible and we live in a gadgets world where every it connected and have some part of it managed through digital technology. We have actually started using Digital Twins meaningfully only in the past 5 to 7 years.
Digital Twins, when you hear these words for the first time, the first thing that you think is, it must be some sort of digital replica of physical things. You are half way there in understanding Digital Twins.
Digital Twin is an exact virtual (digital) replica of physical product, object, system, process and even human beings to some extent. Digital twins is used for simulation, prototyping, testing and maintenance as well as for investigations of cause and effects for any major issues and risks we face in products, objects, systems, processes etc.
Digital Twins are of three broad types based on their usage needs,
1. Digital Twin Prototype (DTP) – As the name suggests this is not a real digital twin but a prototype and generally used for all types of digital prototyping giving a feel of the product, object, system or process.
2. Digital Twin Instance (DTI) – DTI is an actual Digital Twin (virtual instance) of a product, object, system or process. DTI is used for carrying our multiple scenario simulations and testing on the virtual instance.
3. Digital Twin Aggregate (DTA) – DTA is combination of multiple instances (samples) of the same product, object, system or process. This is used to carry out detailed simulations and tests on aggregated instances. It is very useful for validating how the hundreds of thousands of instances of digital twins could work and what challenges and issues we might face as we ramp up or ramp down the instances, upgrades, maintenance and support.
Digital Twins are used in 3D modelling, architecting, construction, manufacturing, retail, healthcare, automotives, aviation, shipping, smart cities and many more industries. Here are some major examples,
1. Retail – Digital Twins are used in the retail industry to model consumers and study their behaviors to enhance user experience.
2. Healthcare – Digital Twins are used in the healthcare industry for multiple areas,
a. For products simulations and tests
b. For patient simulations and tests
c. For Hospitals and Clinics process simulations
d. For staff trainings using digital twins
3. Automotives – Digital Twins are used in the automotive industry for parts simulations as well as product simulations and testing
4. Manufacturing – Digital Twins can be used to simulate how industry and manufacturing lines can perform in various scenarios.
5. Architecting – Digital Twins can be used for 3D modeling and architecting simulations and tests.
6. Aviation and Shipping – Digital Twins can be used for aircraft, spacecraft and ships simulations and testing
7. Construction – Digital Twins can be used for major construction modelling and simulation testing.
8. Smart Cities – Countries and Governments can use Digital twins for simulating smart cities and how they can meet their growth and sustainability goals.
The need for digital twins is clear from above examples. Please also check above picture of Microsoft Azure Digital Twin Overview of a Smart City. Digital twins help in ensuring before we launch the new product, object, system or process as well as before we upgrade we do a thorough virtual simulation and testing to understand the quality, impact, issues and risks. The outcome helps in addressing all the areas sufficiently before launching. Here are some real examples specifying why we need digital twins,
1. Imagine the impact for an airline company of recalling its aeroplanes for any parts defects post product launch.
2. Imagine the impact of healthcare device recall post launch and how much it will impact organization’s brand and finances.
3. Imagine an automotive company recalling its cars to address defective part which did not get sufficiently tested.
4. Imagine a space rockets company having its rocket failure due to insufficient simulation tests.
5. Imagine a trading company launching a defective trading app and how much of impact it can create for its customers.
6. Imagine a construction company building a construction project without full simulation and tests.
These are only few examples why we need digital twins to improve simulation and testing with virtual instances. There are many more examples across all industries and sectors.
Here is a quick understanding on how the digital twins are setup and how do they function,
1. Digital twins are setup and created as virtual instance(s) that get(s) data feed from the physical instance(s).
2. The data is fed using system interfaces or data loads for specific scenarios simulations and tests.
3. The results are collected and recorded from different parts of the respective product, object, process or system.
4. The results are collated and visualisations are created for concluding on insights.
5. Insights lead to actions and possibly some more simulations and tests until the respective product, object, process or system meets all criteria.
Digital Twins can be created using company proprietary or market standard platforms. Microsoft, Nvidia, IBM, Siemens, Cisco, Oracle, Ansys, General Electric and many other companies offer Digital Twin platforms, solutions and services.
Digital Twins are an essential part of Industry 4.0 and Digital Transformation for organizations’ digital value chain. Digital twins are also closely attached and work in conjunction with the IoT (Internet of Things) and IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) ecosystems. Digital Twins can also be understood as Metaverse made for the reverse engineering of investigations and simulations.
Digital Twins are very useful for organizations, industries, sectors and countries. As it costs to have a Digital Twin, it is important to not apply Digital Twins for every product, object, process and system. Digital Twins should be applied to only mission critical, high impact and high risk products, objects, processes and systems.
Digital Twin are a necessity for organizations as their products and value chain becomes digital through digital transformation and digital business models. In near future more easy to use platforms, solutions and services will emerge that will make using Digital Twins simpler and faster for all.