Today, we are living in the age of automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Mankind has already come a long way in ensuring that every chore performed by the smallest of entities, whether living or non-living, can be optimized. Doing this not only simplifies life, sometimes it also results in the conception of new technologies and invention of some of the least explored segments of data science. After Internet of Things (IoT), yet another breakthrough invention in the field of modern day digitalization is the Digital Twin technology. Considering the range of benefits that this technology comes with, let us take a closer glance at its usability and future scope.

Before jumping on to today’s topic of interest, you must know that the concept of Digital Twin has been around for about two decades now. However, the major breakthrough came only after Internet of Things became a success. Interestingly, IoT takes the credit for making Digital Twin technology one of the most cost-effective and functionally-feasible digital wonders of all times.

So, What Exactly is the Digital Twin technology?

Digital Twins can be defined as the virtual replicas of all physical entities or assets, both living as well as non-living. This includes digital systems, IoT products, places, people, jet engines, building a factory floor or next-gen processes. The idea behind creating a digital twin is to digitally represent both the dynamic as well as physical properties of an Artificial Intelligence (AI) or IoT product, so as to record, analyze and interpret its behavior throughout its complete life cycle.

Most commonly, data scientists and other Artificial Intelligence professionals create a digital twin or a virtual replica to study how an actual IoT device or system will behave under different circumstances. In other words, they use digital twins to record and test simulations before the actual devices are built and stationed in their designated areas of application. A digital twin acts as a bridge between the digital and the physical worlds. 

In simple layman terms, think of digital twin as the initial prototype or blueprint of your internship project which you improve over time to create a fully-functional project by the end of your semester. 

Scope and Growth of Digital Twin Technology

Currently, several large Multi-National Corporations (MNCs) like Siemens and General Motors are using the Digital Twin technology to create, monitor and analyze the behavior of wind turbines and other manufacturing deployments in real time. As of now, it is safe to say that the world will witness many, many technological marvels in the years to come, some of which are already in the undertaking.

You will learn about some of these digital twin examples in the upcoming sections of this article.

Digital Twin Technology: Market Prediction 2020 and Beyond

Looking at the tremendous potential of the Digital Twin technology, it is predicted that by the end of 2020, more than 30 percent of the top 2000 global companies will be using real-time data from digital twin systems and prototypes of IoT products. One of the greatest achievements of the Digital Twin technology is that it helps in improving the overall success rates of product innovation, which in turn improves the productivity of an organization.

In 2017, one of the world’s leading research and advisory companies, Gartner, predicted that this Internet of Things based technology will help organizations to not only implement digital twins in the first place, rather it will also help improve the capabilities of these twin prototypes. Coupled with real-time data collection, analysis and visualization, these digital twins are capable of justifying business objectives of some of the most expensive and extensive IoT devices in the times to come!

As predicted by top business analysts, the cost of developing a digital twin is predicted to be lower in the upcoming years due to increased computing speed. This means that companies will be able to test, predict and solve problems on the prototype devices before implementing them on actual physical systems and devices. 

Let us move ahead to look at some of the popular utilities of the Digital Twin technology.

Benefits of Using Digital Twin Technology

Some of the game-changing characteristics or benefits of the Digital Twin technology are listed below:

  • Connectivity

Connectivity is one of the prime characteristics of the Digital Twin technology. It is similar to the Internet of Things technology in terms of increased connectivity and optimized usability. When using a digital twin, it is possible to establish connectivity between the actual physical component as well as its corresponding digital prototype.

This connectivity is made possible by the sensors mounted on the physical component, which are capable of extracting large amounts of information. This in turn integrates and communicates with the integration technologies involved. However most importantly, digital twins enable increased connectivity to the customers of the services/digital devices as well.

  • Flexibility and Modularity

With the help of the Digital Twin technology, manufacturing industries can tweak machines and models to come up with the best possible IoT and AI devices. This technology helps companies to track the performance of machines and also plan systematic improvements over time. It also makes the identification of faulty parts easier and thus enables timely replacement of machine parts for optimized manufacturing performance.

  • Reprogrammable Devices

As is the usual case with most of the technologies backed by Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence, creating digital twins enable the products and devices to be easily reprogrammed in the course of operation. This is usually achieved with the help of sensors that are part of the prototype. For better understanding, let us take the example of a jet engine. A digital twin can be used to collect data and measure the performance parameters of the jet engine. Based on the data collected, improvements can be made and newer versions of the engine can be created, as and when necessary.

  • Data Consistency

Due to the large amounts of data being digitized, the Digital Twin technology enables data to be computed, transmitted and stored in a fast and cost-efficient manner. Yet another revolutionary characteristic of developing a digital twin is that it can be shared among large groups of people, without any geographical or time constraint.

Uses of Digital Twin Technology

Some of the important and widely popular uses of the Digital Twin technology is the design and maintenance of the power generation machinery, most commonly turbines used in power generators and jet engines. Architects working in the field of Internet of Things are known to create and use digital twin blueprints to optimize the time and effort put into the development of AI and IoT-based devices.

  • Healthcare

With the help of the Digital Twin technology, the healthcare sector is already creating digital twins for patients. When coupled with IoT based modern-day equipment and sensors, doctors in many parts of the world are now able to record and send health and fitness updates of patients to their respective digital twins. In the long run, this technology will make it easier to identify and monitor public health and well-being.

For example, General Electric (GE) has set up its first IoT and digital twin based Health Innovation Village in Helsinki, Finland. GE describes this healthcare startup as an incubator that helps companies in the country to create healthcare products and medicines. 

  • Automotive

The automotive industry is not new to the concept of digital twins. Cars, aircrafts and other automotive engines are already equipped with telemetry sensor suites. Collectively, the automotive industry can utilize the Digital Twin technology to create smart sensor suites, which can be embedded into real-time environments like traffic signals. The data sets obtained from this simulation can be used to propose, develop, test and validate training data based on several AI approaches.

For example, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) is using Artificial Intelligence and digital twins as an attempt to bridge the gap to create an innovation-rich connected future in the automotive industry. TCS is constantly working on creating seamless convergence of both the physical as well as the digital versions of product prototypes. When put into action, the company has deployed digital twins of actual vehicles on roads and traffic-prone areas to address all kinds of challenges that are common to the entire automotive industry.

  • Manufacturing Industry

In the manufacturing sector, physical objects and machinery can be virtualized and seen as digital twins of the original machinery. The results and data sets obtained from working on the digital version of the machines/objects help in seamlessly integrating the results into the original physical entity. This way, companies can reap in the benefits from both the physical and the virtual entities simultaneously.

For example, Arctic Wind is a prominent mechanical firm in Norway that operates wind power plants. Checking the health of these wind turbines was a time-consuming, expensive and tedious process, given to the low temperatures and other unfavorable conditions. Hence, to monitor the overall health of the wind power plants, the company decided to install sensors on the wind turbines. By doing this, they can collect data and track the performance of the wind power plants. With the help of the digital twin, real-time data from the wind turbines can be collected, enabling employees to visualize any possible problem that can occur in the near future.

  • Geographic Planning

The concept of smart cities has been around for a couple of years now. However, to plan and implement such next-gen ideas of urban planning, builders and collaborators need to be absolutely sure of what they are doing! This is exactly where the Digital Twin technology kicks in. Creating a digital twin is a very popular part of urban planning methodologies, where the virtual twin captures real-time spatial data in 3D and 4D to study the behavior of modern geographical establishments. All this is possible thanks to the sensors embedded within cities and their digital twin counterparts.

For example, Augmented Reality (AR) is long being used to create reality maps, data from which is projected by professionals onto tabletops for further examination and correction. 

Leading Businesses Using the Digital Twin Technology

Working with digital twins enable businesses to understand and analyze the real-time working conditions of physical entities. Let us take a look at couple of businesses that are using the Digital Twin technology.

  • Seebo.com

Seebo.com is a process-based Artificial Intelligence company, which provides industrial solutions to businesses. The analysis and result-based services provided by this company enables manufacturers to improve performance, quality and longevity of their services. Particularly, companies can utilize their services to optimize yield and production, and at the same time, minimize the scope of inefficiency and loss.

  • Microsoft

Microsoft has already ventured deep in the field of digital twins by not only including it in their array of physical products, rather by also applying it to their processes. Microsoft uses a process digital twin to achieve low-cost connectivity and enhanced capability of its products across their complete lifecycle. 

  • General Electric

Similar is the case with General Electric, an American MNC that has ventured into the concept of digital twins including healthcare and manufacturing among others. Most popular amongst these is their digital wind turbines. Digital Twin technology enabled GE to improve the productivity of their digital wind farms by using the information retrieved from virtual environment to predict and design their wind turbines long before their actual construction and deployment. The company estimates that it can shoot up the overall efficiency and productivity by more than 20 percent.

  • Eniram

Eniram is a Finland-based software engineering company that provides a wide range of solutions to its clients, including managing fleet and vessel energy optimization among others. Eniram uses the Digital Twin technology to create virtual twins of gigantic shipping containers, which are currently moving around a large portion of the world’s commerce. This is in particular a very extensive use of a digital twin because it can use real-time simulation data results to examine and improve the quality and strength of cargo vessels and containers.

What Thought Leaders Have to Say About the Digital Twin Technology?

Before we conclude our topic of discussion today, let us take a look at what some of the best minds in the digital space have to say about the Digital Twin technology.

  • According to American Express’s Scrum Master Srivathsan Govindarajan, despite many companies already having adopted the Digital Twin technology, there is still a lot of potential that lays unexplored in this field. Srivathsan believes that the oil, gas and renewable energy industries can benefit largely from using the digital twins or virtual versions of large and expensive industrial equipment. He also believes that going forward, companies will be able to connect all their physical and virtual assets, where not only an equipment’s current and future information will be available at fingertips, rather all of its historical data will also be feasible to fetch and utilize.

  • According to the Founding Leader and General Manager of the Internet of Things division at IBM, Christopher O’Connor, the company has already invested billions into the development of a business model that aims at connecting digital devices across different sectors, such as communications, commercial and industrial.

  • The Digital Transformation Specialist at Siemens, Bruce Jackson, works towards obtaining increased productivity, performance and scalability in collaboration with some of the best minds in the software engineering industry. He explains that one of the most important aspects of his job at Siemens is to help individuals understand the benefits of digitizing their day-to-day goal with their respective performance and product virtual counterparts. 

How Can Businesses Ace the Digital Twin Game?

According to GE Power and Water’s Chief Digital Officer and General Manager of Software and Analytics, Ganesh Bell, for every physical asset in the world, there exists a virtual replica running on the cloud network. This virtual entity is fed with virtual real-time operational data.

Right now, all ongoing advancements point towards an explosion of the Digital Twin technology. Needless to say, more and more companies, whether solution-based or process-based, will be deploying their very own virtual twins in the times to come!

Skillset Requirements for Venturing Into the World of Digital Twins

One of the foremost important things to remember is that simply recreating and installing sensors into the virtual prototypes is not enough to successfully come up with a digital twin. Let us look at a couple of other important requirements.

  • The ability to build the main body of the physical product, along with its features and functionalities.
  • The software-related expertise to design both the physical and digital versions of the same product, so as to save time, cost and effort at a later stage.
  • It is furthermore important for business owners to understand the type of talent that they want to get on boarded. This would decide the success rate of the simulations, which in turn results in optimized performance of the original physical product.

Future Insights into the Digital Twin Technology!

As someone who has spent a considerable amount of time studying this topic, I believe that the Digital Twin technology can help optimize projects across the entire lifecycle of a physical entity, starting from the engineering phase to the efficiency at the work-in-progress phase and real-time results at the operational phase.

By providing a completely functional virtual version of a product, we can not only obtain real-time information about its current state and future behavior, rather it also serves as a digital thread that binds together the physical and virtual world around us!

Related resource links:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/sap/2018/07/30/thought-leader-roundtable-three-experts-discuss-digital-twins/#33f25adc292a

https://info.microsoft.com/The-Process-Digital-Twin-A-step-towards-operational-excellence-Registration-ForminBody.html

https://www.digitalistmag.com/digital-supply-networks/2018/07/31/thought-leader-roundtable-3-experts-discuss-digital-twins-06181681

https://www.hcltech.com/blogs/digital-twins-bridging-gap-between-industrial-assets-and-digital-world

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