For as long as humans have built complex technological marvels, constantly collecting feedback and improving on the same, there has been the ever present requirement to perform tasks such as maintaining the same, carrying out regular checks to verify that a certain product performs as per expected, etc. Often we have been faced with the necessity of needing to perform the same processes, but without physically being present at the location of the object in question. This is where Digital Twins comes in. Thus, in this article, we would be answering your question, “What is Digital Twin?”
In essence, it is akin to creating an exact copy of a real-world object or ‘thing’, in a virtual world, down to the minutest of details. You can think of it as creating a simulation of something that might exist in the real-world. For example, if you create an exact virtual copy of a bridge, you can ‘simulate’ various tests on the virtual copy and get a very good idea of the faults and tolerances of its design. You would thus also know what to do in order to make your design better, more durable and versatile. All of this would thus be achievable before said unforeseen faults eventually cause a terrible and costly mishap, or perhaps even before a single brick has been laid or a single piece of steel has been purchased.
“A Digital Twin is a virtual model of a process, product or service.”Forbes Magazine
Thus, in connecting the physical and the virtual world in such a detailed manner, one might be able to diagnose faults even before they occur, prevent a service or product from downtime or reduce the same in some capacity or even enable one to plan for the future using simulations. So all that might sound like a very good idea, but you might be wondering how one goes about actually creating an exact replica of a physical object in the virtual domain. Please feel free to read on as we take a brief look into the same in the next section.
HOW DOES A DIGITAL TWIN WORK?
A Digital Twin is generally built by specialists and experts in Data Science, Applied Mathematics or Physics. Since Physics describes how objects interact with each other in the physical world, mathematical models of physical interactions are built that the product might undergo in its life cycle. For instance, considering the bridge example, it would be crucial to build a mathematical basis for how the bridge might be affected by winds blowing in various directions or speeds, or how it might be best designed to survive an earthquake, etc. This creates the basis for a digital twin mirroring the physical counterpart.
Sensors integrated with the real-world object feeds in real-time data to the digital twin. This enables the digital twin to simulate the conditions of the real-world object it is mirroring in digital space, in real-time. Thus it would be capable of providing invaluable insights into the performance of the real-world object or potential problems that might arise. The twin might also be built to mirror a prototype of its physical counterpart, in which case, it would be highly effective in monitoring the performance of the prototype with incremental upgrades and improvements. Alternatively, a Digital Twin might be built that mirrors an object which does not even exist in the real world yet, thus providing deep insights of how the design would function, if it did exist in the physical world.
As mentioned in the example of the bridge earlier on, you would be able to simulate various physical conditions such as wind-speed, direction, maximum weight, etc., to verify that your design meets the required criterion. Moreover, when the bridge is completed and exists in the real-world, you would be able to continually monitor its conditions, make predictions on real-time data and avert potential disasters if the possibility might arise.
WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF DIGITAL TWIN?
Quite simply, Digital Twins are the most technologically advanced, accurate and real-time design and monitoring system designed by humans, yet. Now pair that with the most skilled, intelligent and creative technicians, engineers and designers in the world and very quickly, you have a system whose products are not only safe, durable and technologically advanced, it is also monitored real time and changes are made to avert issues that might have happened further into the future.
Not only does the concept of Digital Twin benefit the end product in terms of monitoring capability and technological complexity, it also benefits the life cycle of a product while it is in development and helps companies understand customer needs and modify or enhance their product accordingly. With more and more physical assets in the world getting converted to its Digital Twin in a computer, we can have copies of physical objects which get richer with every passing day, by the sheer amount of environmental, physical and statistical data collected each day.
Such a huge amount of data collected and employed by Digital Twins has also seen more and more collaborations between Data Scientists and Engineers and technicians in the field that only helps to make the product better, safer and more resilient.
WHERE IS DIGITAL TWINS USED?
Quite simply, if an object exists in the physical world, it can almost certainly be converted into a Digital Twin and with the great positive impacts that such a technology can have on the development and life cycle of such a product, it has seen widespread adoption in multiple industries all around the world such as aerospace, construction, HVACs, locomotive, energy generation industries, etc. Let’s take a brief look into some of them:
- Manufacturing Industry
Digital Twins are quickly disrupting the Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) for manufacturing services and operations. Thousands of sensors deployed throughout a factory floor can now provide real-time data of occurrences throughout the factory, such as environmental factors, machine productivity, etc. and any challenges arising due to some abnormality can now be detected and dealt with at an astonishing rate.
Where Digital Twins really make a dent in terms of impact is in the creation of a digital footprint of real world objects. To put things into perspective with a real-world example, General Electric employs a system based on Digital Twins and utilizes this software to analyze data from their wind turbines, oil rigs and aircraft engines on a per-engine basis. How does that help? Whenever the system detects a problem with an engine, the ground staff are alerted to the same and a spare part is ready at the next airport the aircraft lands.
- Urban Planning and Construction
With the increasing appetite for digital technologies in the smart cities movement, Digital Twins have become increasingly popular for modelling the geography of vast swaths of area, such as cities, including the 3D and the 4D spatial data of urban environments and data feeds within them. The collection of this vast amount of data can be readily used by technicians and engineers specialising in built environments for modelling the design, construction and maintenance of structures and buildings which provide more room for fault detection and projection, thus, aiding in designing around the same.
Digital Twins are used in the automobile industry to create virtual models of cars. These models can then monitor the real time performance, safety features, etc. to provide a more accurate picture of how a specific car is driven. In doing so, a firm can have a more accurate picture of various features that might be added to the car in order to prevent more accidents on the road.
Digital Twins also help in optimizing the development cycle of a new model. It can provide accurate diagnosis based on present and past data regarding the design and implementation of key components like the body structure, aerodynamics, material selection, fuel efficiency, etc. which not only make the product cheaper and faster to develop but also benefits the end user with reduction in prices, optimized fuel efficiency, included safety features, etc.
Using Digital Twins, the health markers of a patient can be tracked in real-time and personalized models can be created. Thus, diagnosis can be made based on a more data driven approach, which goes a long way in giving the largely generalized process of healthcare a more personal touch. However, the greatest benefit of the Digital Twins approach with healthcare is that it can be tailored to anticipate based on the responses of the patient.