Congratulations… it’s a (digital) twin

Published on the 29/08/2018 | Written by Heather Wright

Digital twins are allowing companies to be bold with a virtual world…

The ability to innovate, risk free, designing and testing new products and processes before investing in them, has long been an alluring concept. 

Enter the digital twin. Providing a virtual representation of physical objects or systems across their lifecycle, digital twins are already in use across a range of industries, including aerospace, retail, healthcare and smart cities.

Unlike CAD or 3D representations, digital twins, according to Deloitte, combine modelling and simulation with sensors and big data. The result is that digital twins are capable of highly advanced simulations using real time data and other sources to enable learning, reasoning and dynamic recalibrating for improved decision making. For businesses, that means an opportunity for monitoring, diagnostics and prognostics with low-risk environment for experimenting with potential solutions.

They aren’t a new concept, of course (what in technology truly is?). Nasa has been running complex simulations of spacecraft for decades. It used the precursor for digital twins, mirrored systems, when things went wrong for Apollo 13, running simulations mirroring the spacecraft’s systems and situation to work out how to get the mission safely back. (Would you slingshot a spacecraft – not to mention its crew – around the moon without rigorous simulation first?)

However, the growth of digital twin enabling technologies including IoT, machine learning and analytics, are helping propel the idea of accurate digital twins forward. Gartner is forecasting that by 2021 half of all large industrial companies will use digital twins, providing them with a 10 percent improvement in effectiveness.

GlobalData is also bullish on the topic, saying it has seen a significant shift towards more IT budget spend on digital twin enabling technology, such as AI and big data platforms, while MarketsandMarkets has forecast the digital twin market to be worth US$15.6 billion by 2023.

Deloitte says companies are using digital twins in a growing number of industries, including aerospace, retail, healthcare and smart cities, to make it easier to design and operate complex products and processes, ranging from wind turbines to supermarket aisles.

“Digital twins are accelerating product and process development, optimising performance and enabling predictive maintenance. The results that companies are targeting: Increasing efficiency, reducing costs and building better products.”

“Companies are using these ‘Digital Twins’ in a growing number of industries, making it easier to design and operate complex products and processes ranging from wind turbines to supermarket aisles,” Deloitte says. “Digital twins are accelerating product and process development, optimizing performance, and enabling predictive maintenance.”

At a recent Esri User Conference, attendees heard how the Port of Rotterdam is creating a digital twin of its port, using IBM IoT technologies and IBM Cloud. The exact digital replica will mirror all resources at the port, tracking ship movements, infrastructure, weather, geographical and water depth data. The port says the twin will enable it to test scenarios and better understand how it can improve efficiencies across operations, while maintaining safety standards.

Gartner says in the short term digital twins primary use will be in asset management, but that will extend to providing value in operational efficiency and insights into how products are used and how they can be improved, with growing potential to link digital twins to entities that aren’t simply ‘things’.

“Over time, digital representations of virtually every aspect of our world will be connected dynamically with their real-world counterparts and with one another and infused with AI-based capabilities to enable advanced simulation, operation and analysis,” says David Cearley, vice president and Gartner Fellow.

“City planners, digital marketers, healthcare professionals and industrial planners will all benefit from this long-term shift to the integrated digital twin world.” He cites the example of future models of humans providing biometric and medical data, and digital twins for entire cities allowing for advanced simulations.

On the vendor front IBM has launched digital twin capabilities for Watson, Oracle added digital twin capabilities to its IoT cloud, GE has a digital twin platform, Predix, and SAP has launched its Predictive Engineering Insights cloud software enabling companies to create digital twins for asset management. 

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