Dec 17, 2021
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What is a digital twin? A real-time, virtual representation

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Digital twins are real-time, virtual representations of objects, processes, and systems. While digital twins can represent purely digital things, they most frequently serve as a bridge between the physical and digital domains. For example, a digital twin could provide a digital view of the operations of a factory, communications network, or the flow of packages through a logistics system.
“The implementation of a digital twin is an encapsulated software object or model that mirrors a unique physical object, process, organization, person, or other abstraction,” according to Gartner. “Data from multiple digital twins can be aggregated for a composite view across a number of real-world entities, such as a power plant or a city, and their related processes.”
These virtual clones of physical operations can help organizations monitor operations, perform predictive maintenance, and provide insight for capital purchase decisions. They can also help organizations simulate scenarios that would be too time-consuming or expensive to test with physical assets, create long-range business plans, identify new inventions, and improve processes.
Digital twins offer five key benefits, according to digital product engineering company GlobalLogic:
Digital twins consist of three primary elements, according to systems integrator, SL Controls:
The various types of digital twins in use today are differentiated largely by their area of application, according to IBM:
Digital twins can be seen as simulations of physical objects and processes, but what sets digital twins apart is real-time updates.
Systems integrator, SL Controls, says that simulations allow engineers to run tests and conduct assessments of a physical asset, but the simulation is static. It depends on the engineer to input new parameters. Digital twins receive real-time updates from the physical asset, process, or system, allowing engineers to perform tests, assessments, and analysis work using real-world conditions.
Organizations are already using digital twins to improve their businesses.
Rolls-Royce improves jet engine efficiency: Multinational aerospace and defense company Rolls-Royce has deployed digital twin technology to monitor the engines it produces. The company can monitor how each engine flies, the conditions in which it’s flying, and how the pilot uses it. Rolls-Royce uses the digital twin to offer service plans tailored to specific engines.
Mars optimizes its supply chain: Confectionary, pet care, and food company Mars has created a digital twin of its manufacturing supply chain to support its businesses. The company is using the technology to improve capacity and process controls, including boosting the uptime of machines via predictive maintenance and reducing waste associated with machines packaging inconsistent product quantities.
TIAA reduces client service complexity: The Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America-College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA) is using a digital twin to reduce the complexity of onboarding new institutional clients. TIAA’s twin uses product metadata, operational flows, overlapping interdependencies, and business rules to validate plan operators’ service plan selections.
Bayer Crop Science reshapes strategy with virtual factories: Bayer Crop Science has created “virtual factories” for each of its nine corn seed manufacturing sites in North America. The virtual factories are dynamic digital representations of the equipment, process and product flow characteristics, bill of materials, and operating rules for each of the nine sites. In addition to providing a real-time view of operations, the virtual factories allow Bayer to perform “what-if” analyses that the company uses to analyze new strategies, make capital purchase decisions, create long-range business plans, and improve processes.
Digital twin software platforms incorporate IoT sensor data and other data to monitor asset performance and run simulations. Consultant Ian Skerrett says scalable digital twin platforms have six key features:
Many organizations are building their own digital twins, but there are some popular platform vendors. Some of the more popular offerings include:
The digital twin market is growing at a rapid clip. Research firm, MarketsandMarkets, says the global digital twin market was $3.1 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $63.5 billion by 2027. It considers digital twin a key component of the fourth industrial revolution (or “Industry 4.0”).
“In Industry 4.0, the digital twin is considered to integrate the manufacturing techniques with advanced technology like IoT that helps in developing interconnected manufacturing systems,” MarketsandMarkets says in its report. “Thus, digital twin technology seems to be an ideal solution that facilitates the companies in realizing the Industry 4.0 standards.”
The firm believes the automotive and transportation, energy and power, and aerospace and defense verticals are the key end-users of digital twin technology.
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