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What are digital twins and how are they transforming today’s industries?



The ongoing digital transformation that businesses are currently experiencing is leading to increased amounts of data generated within the manufacturing process, bringing great opportunities for manufacturers to improve the efficiency of their processes. Utilizing this data, however, may prove challenging. The idea of a digital twin is to create a digital replica of real-world objects. This provides a promising way to present and utilize the data available and understand how real objects and production equipment behave and interact in different scenarios. Identified as one of the emerging technologies by Gartner for 2019[1], the average yearly growth rate for the digital twin market between 2020 and 2030 is projected to be around 40%. In a 2019 survey, 13% of manufacturers who adopted IoT technologies were using digital twins, with a whopping 62% planning to implement them within a year.[3] But what exactly is a digital twin, and why should manufacturers care? This article will answer these questions by presenting the current scope of the technology and its main benefits and potential.


The defintion of a digital twin can appear a little fuzzy, but it is generally seen as a virtual replica of a physical object. One can differentiate between 3 types of digital replicas. A simple digital model accurately represents a physical object in a digital format. A more advanced version is the digital shadow, which encompasses real-time data flow from the physical world intro the virtual one (one-way information flow). The state-of-the-art digital twin integrates physical objects within its digital replica by allowing for a two-way information flow between both worlds. This allows for advanced scenario planning since changes in both worlds can help predict how a given machine may react, as well as allows for optimization of the real world from the virtual one.[4]


In short, data is captured from the physical object with the help of sensors and cameras that form the basis for the digital twin. In the digital replica, the data is modeled to mimic the real-world object as accurately as possible and presented to create insights into the physical version, with an interface that allows users to engage. Digital twins often enable adjustments to the physical asset through the digital version and on the basis of the insights generated by the twin. The ultimate aim is to provide easy access to data-based insights and thus to support operational and business-related decision-making.


The benefits and potentials of a digital twin are manifold, as the concept can not only be applied to objects, but also to entire production plants, factories, processes, or persons’ tasks as well. Having an exact digital replica of a physical asset increases visibility and transparency of assets and processes, allowing the user an easy access to data-based insights. This process of centralizing and simplifying information gathering allows for the access to real-time and historical data, enabling the optimization of processes and predictive analytics. Additionally, using a digital twin can help accelerate time-to-market by enabling the simulation of design- and production processes virtually before the actual physical production takes place. Informed process planning reduces operating costs and may increase revenues through increased performance of products and services.[5] An especially promising use case for digital twins is the creation of a virtual replica of entire manufacturing processes, where making information available in the digital twin in near real-time allows for detailed data-based insights, access to historical data to uncover inconsistencies, as well as the potential for real-time optimization of processes and predictive analytics.[6]


Caption: In manufacturing, the digital twin has several promising use cases. Source: https://www.plm.automation.siemens.com/global/en/our-story/glossary/digital-twin/24465


Inspired by the concept of the digital twin, and utilizing the technology of a collaborating start-up Scasa, we have a solution that uses state-of-the-art 3D scanning technologies to create and present an exact virtual replica of any industrial manufacturing plant within a short time span. Using innovative algorithms to generate textured meshes with integrated 360° images allows for the presentation of a building in a digital format from anywhere, creating an immersive online experience. Additionally, the solution allows possibilities for reconstruction of facilities, as well as visualizing live production and machine data in the virtual model.


The exact application of the solution depends on the needs of the specific circumstances, but the key contributions of the solution can be summarized in 3 main points: marketing, guided tours, and connectivity. For marketing purposes, the digital twin creates potential for interactive exploration of facilities and showcasing interesting locations. Within the digital model, specific points of interest can be highlighted to give more information to the visitor. Secondly, the possibility for guided, interactive 3D tours exists, enabling the explanation and performing of tasks step-by-step. Lastly, the solution offers significant potential for factory connectivity, with possibilities for collaborative working, connecting sensors to the virtual model as well as joint exploration and tagging. Within a factory setting, the virtual model also has the capacity capture relevant KPIs of the manufacturing process and visualize them in the model in real-time, enabling easy access to data-based insights on the production process through the virtual version. For this, technologies from the United Manufacturing Hub and Intel help provide the data foundation.


Here, you can have a digital tour in an energy research center: https://my.scasa.eu/FtmQ673hO


Caption: the solution consists of 3 main building blocks.


What are the preconditions for a digital twin and why should an organization have their own? Quite obviously, one needs access so data, general rule being the more the better. The concept of digital thread implies that the data is not siloed, but available in an integrated manner, forming an easy-access, comprehensive communication framework. Common standards for data analy


  1. Today’s world is increasingly connected and there is no way around it. Connecting the real world with the virtual one is a key to innovation.

  2. A digital twin provides a platform to give insights, analyze and predict scenarios, which opens doors to optimization, efficiency gains, collaborative working, better decision-making and even utilizing the virtual world for marketing purposes.

  3. Especially the Covid-19 pandemic has shown that companies are going increasingly remote and need new ways to work and collaborate, also remotely. The Digital twin provides a great opportunity here.


Digital twins drive value within organizations. They can help with product engineering, design, and production optimization as well as providing a collaborative platform to work on or to showcase objects or facilities virtually. If we have awoken your interest, check out the resources listed below or contact us.








Sources:

[1] Gartner hype cycle 2018: https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/5-trends-emerge-in-gartner-hype-cycle-for-emerging-technologies-2018

[2] Digital twin market size: https://www.fortunebusinessinsights.com/digital-twin-market-106246

[3] Gartner survey on digital twins: https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2019-02-20-gartner-survey-reveals-digital-twins-are-entering-mai

[4] Differentiating digital twin from a digital shadow: https://www.mdpi.com/2075-5309/11/4/151

[5] Technology Deep Dive - Digital Twins: https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/Business%20Functions/McKinsey%20Digital/Our%20Insights/The%20top%20trends%20in%20tech%20final/Tech%20Trends%20slides%208%209%2010

[6] Industry 4.0 and the digital twin: Manufacturing meets its match: https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/industry-4-0/digital-twin-technology-smart-factory.html

[7] Supra note 5.

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