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Digital Twins: Helping Physical World Get Virtual Benefits

Digital Twins: Helping Physical World Get Virtual Benefits
Gaurav Sharma - General Manager | October 31, 2017
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Digital initiatives are rapidly becoming a norm for the businesses to differentiate themselves from the competition in some or the other form. It’s imperative that digital innovation can be utilized in solving more physical world issues than to be able to induce better living environment. Hence, digital transformation concept is now moving from customer-facing applications to back-end processes, products, services, and everything that existed as part of a traditional set-up.

So, what is the role of technology here? The concept of Digital Twins can bridge the gap between physical and virtual worlds. One of the traditional issues with any process, product, or service was to check and predict how it will behave in the real world. Organizations used to rely on modelling and other techniques that could give them some idea about the behaviour of such implementations in the real world. That allowed them to play within a limited set of constraints and variables. One of the other restrictions was cost. If the model is more extensive, cost would be much higher. And chances for its re-usability would be limited.

The concept of Digital Twins can bridge the gap between physical and virtual worlds.

Digital Twins aim to solve these real-world issues to a large extent. It is the creation of a virtual model of any product, process, or a service that essentially helps organizations to consider the positives and negatives without really developing or implementing anything physically. A Digital Twin combines the physical asset with the essentials such as cloud, IoT, and other technologies. These allow the data to be collected, analysed, and monitored from a real integrated system. IoT concept lets the entity generate real-time data that is collected, analysed, and combined with other types of data (context, behaviour, variables to name a few), which is then presented for consumption. The virtual aspect provides the benefits of playing with as many variables and limitations to understand its usage in the real world.

Digital twins allow one to test the digital format of an asset under various situations increasing predictability of results.

While, the usability and applicability of such models is vast, the benefits could range from extensive testing to preventing down-times, creating complex product scenarios. Testing such systems for business requirements without really building them physically would help understand how a change would affect other components. The predictability of achieving efficiency and productivity can be increased many fold with Digital Twins as it represents the digital format of any asset.

Virtual models existed for some time but Digital Twins essentially differ from them in terms of it being more interactive. In addition, they can couple a physical and a virtual object together to be able to create new revenue streams and can transform the operations by being dynamic. If Artificial Intelligence (AI) is added, it becomes capable to transform the entire operations and testing set-up where we could simulate environments in entirety with AI redefining some of those components and can save cost as well.

Digital Twins technology was originally fostered by NASA for space exploration where they couldn’t design or develop models beyond a certain capacity. Hence, they came up with the concept of Digital Twins that could take into account any action, performance, reaction, running, behaviour, conditions, context, shape, composition or structure of a physical asset. Moreover, this allowed them to understand and predict the future operation and behaviour of such entities. This was used in Apollo 13 mission while rescuing the crew. Another example could be the F1 racing, where Digital Twins are used to ascertain issues and their solutions before they could even occur.

So, how does a Digital Twin come to life? The journey starts with collecting a lot of data using sensors or any equipment for which the digital twin is required. This data is then sanitized to be used by developers and analytics team for their simulations. The equipment is run multiple times to collect data of various types including the failure rate. Once done, this data is then analysed and simulated using platforms such as GE Predix and IBM Watson along with complex applications, analytics that may comprise of micro services-based architecture. High performance computing is also being utilized to navigate through these huge data sets. These Digital Twins represent the next step in a digitally transformed organization. Besides, it helps to address issues quickly, effectively, and proactively across the organization.

The next step is to combine this Digital Twin with Augmented/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) to have ‘feel and experience’ as part of the digital simulation. Predictive analysis remains the key to a digital twin’s effectiveness but adding AR/VR would surely take it a step further. The possibilities are endless as the simulation now enables the designers and developers to take into account inter-dependencies and data streams that were locked up within different teams and departments. Additionally, it checks how one would connect or affect the other. The effect can, however, be realized when it is allowed to manage the entire lifecycle of the product/services/ process and requires both functional and technical skills that should be heavily supported by analytics and data streams in each phase.

Today, it doesn’t necessarily take away the physical asset. However, in future, we might see different aspects of it once the technology matures. As information technology combines with operational technology, we might see more innovative products coming our way. But these innovative products will come with better efficiency and smarter capabilities. That’s what digital twin aims to do for us.


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