The first well-known implementation of a "digital twin" concept was introduced in a roadmap report by NASA's John Vicker to create simulations of spacecraft and capsules for testing. A digital twin is a virtual recreation or a simulation of the real world, from physical objects to processes or services. For instance, a digital twin can be as complex as a digital replica of an entire city consisting of all the infrastructure necessary for that city to function. This is especially relevant when being in the process of designing a smart city. Or it could be as simple as a product, such as a smartphone or a wind turbine, being digitally reproduced as a prototype before it goes into production. Such reproductions help monitor the status of actual physical objects or processes, make changes to them, and monitor the effects of those changes.
The basic design of a digital twin
This concept could be divided into physical, digital/virtual, and connections between these two. In essence, a digital twin can be a simulation run on a computer of the physical world. Additionally, the simulation can be fed with real-time data of assets for monitoring and management purposes. It has a wide range of applications integrating IoT and AI in Industry 4.0 to predict and manage product or process performance. A good example is that of an engineer who needs to redesign and test a critical equipment component, such as a robotic arm, in a manufacturing factory, to improve the manufacturing process. By using AR/VR, the engineers can virtually test and manipulate the equipment with the newly designed part using a digital twin. Otherwise, this would require a physical shutdown of the manufacturing line in order to be able to manually change and safely test this component.
Applications of digital twins and advantages
The digital twin has seen a quick adoption in the manufacturing industry, particularly with applications within smart factories; in the design and simulation for smart cities to meet the global demand for a sustainable future; in the healthcare industry for designing and implementing digital technology in smart hospitals; in the automotive industry to capture a vehicle's operating data to evaluate its condition in real-time and optimize usage.
The most common advantages across all digital twin applications are quicker risk assessment, predictive maintenance, real-time monitoring, better collaboration, and decision-making. This aids the companies to test and validate a product before creating actual prototypes. It is done by creating a replica of planned processes, with digital twin enabling builders to identify any failures or inconsistencies before the product goes into production. This enhances productivity and development times for products with substantial financial savings. Some of the leading digital twin companies are Microsoft, Bosch, General Electric Company, IBM, Siemens, Oracle, and Cisco. Also, many of these companies help in building digital twins on the cloud for other businesses as a service.
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Lionel Sujay Vailshery
Research expert covering the consumer electronics industry