Working in Duplicate: Understanding Digital Twin Technology

by Pranav Ramesh
November 30, 2022

“If you ask 3 people what a digital twin is, you get 5 answers.”  

– Marc Lind, Senior Vice President, Aras 

 Bewilderment about its meaning notwithstanding, digital twins will be the future…of probably everything. Already, 70% of C-suite technology executives are investigating or investing in digital twin technology, and it is increasingly being explained its importance to investors by CEOs, according to a 2022 McKinsey study. Currently, the digital twin market is worth $3.1 billion, but in only four short years it will be worth nearly $50 billion – a staggering 58% compounded annual growth rate.   

The primary reason for the different answers to what digital twin technology has to do with its virtual limitless uses and potentials, and at a scale hard to fathom. NASA was the first to use the technology in 2010 to improve spacecraft simulation. Now, it has grown to a multitude of industries.  Hotels and restaurants use it to improve space configurations and guest flow. Manufacturers use it in a vast array of ways including having digital twins of entire supply chains and production lines. Cities and Governments are using it for anything from infrastructure planning to disaster planning. 

This doesn’t even scratch the surface of digital twin technology’s potential. Europe is working on a digital twin of the entirety of Earth’s climate that may help fight climate change and predict disasters. In the very near future, it is quite possible that you’re going to have a digital twin too.  

Digital Twins Explained 

Digital twin technology is not just one thing. Rather, it is the convergence of some of today’s most cutting-edge technologies – high-performance computing, artificial intelligence, data analytics, cloud computing, digital threads, and the Internet of Things, among many others.  

The concept itself is relatively simple – a digital twin is a virtual clone of a physical object, process, or complex system. If applicable, the digital twin can also further exist in a replica of the environment in which the object cloned exists. The complexity comes with how and in what ways its application is scaled.  

There are generally four different types of digital twins, though in many cases the different types co-exist simultaneously with each other, and a single digital twin can fit more than one type. The four types are: 

  • Component Twins – the basic unit of a digital twin 
  • Asset Twins – two or more component twins linked 
  • System or Unit Twins – two or more assets linked 
  • Process Twins – macro level of the digital twin, whole systems linked 

A good example to better understand how digital twin technology works is GE’s Electric Wind Farm and its digital counterpart the Digital Wind Farm. Each turbine is outfitted with sensors connected to various components that have a digital twin, i.e., component twin. Those component twins work together to make a digital twin, or an asset twin, of the turbine itself. Turbine groups have system twins, and the digital farm itself would be a process twin.  

The magic happens in how these twins interact with not only their real counterparts but with each other. The sensors attached to the real turbines constantly collect and sends data to a central computer that then processes that data and updates the digital twin. This happens in real-time. Simultaneously, simulations are run based on the data collected that are used to make constant, instant, and prophetically accurate predictive changes to the farm to maximize productivity, establish specific maintenance needs, and discover design flaws…to name but a few. 

GE knows digital twin technology works. Indeed, each individual turbine in its wind farm creates an additional $100 million in its lifetime because its production can increase by as much as 20%. All thanks to its digital twin. 

Benefits of Digital Twins 

One benefit of digital twin technology that applies virtually across the board is that it often goes beyond the border of any one company or organization. In other words, one digital twin can serve multiple functions. In fact, according to Gartner, 54% of organizations they spoke with reported their digital twins were used by another organization, and nearly a third said the twin was being used by more than two. 

To illustrate why businesses would want to share their digital twin, take our earlier example of the GE turbine. While the turbines themselves are made by GE, some of the individual components are manufactured by other companies. Those other companies are also interested in GE’s digital twin of their product because they can use that data to further increase efficiency in design and production.  

Other, specific benefits are going to be determined by the nature and goals of the organization or company. However, some broad examples include: 

  • Retail: Digital twins of both employees and customers would help optimize store layouts which increases profitability and efficiency. Digital twins of the store, supply chains, and even individual products, all working together as system twins, would help stores by simulating the end-to-end impact of business and market changes.  
  • Healthcare: Digital twins of one’s organs, or just the whole body itself, will help doctors simulate anything from minor treatments to full surgeries, as well as help make predictive diagnoses to help with preventative healthcare. 
  • Manufacturing: Digital twins of factories help boost productivity, and digital twins of supply lines maximize efficiency and can predict bottlenecks or disruptions. Even digital twins of the product themselves help track the uses and life cycles to aid in future research and development.  
  • Civic: Digital twins of a city and its inhabitants’ aid in developing better infrastructure, traffic solutions, disaster management, etc.  

 

Digital twin technology is still in its infancy. But it’s growing, almost exponentially, and it will almost certainly change our everyday lives on a fundamental level. However, despite its youth, many companies are already reaping the benefits. Don’t miss out on this revolutionary advancement- consider how digital twin technology could help your business grow.  

 

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