The concept of digital twins has been around for some time. The term was first used by Gelernter in his 1991 book, Mirror Worlds, while Michael Grieves first applied the concept to manufacturing in 2002. The first application of digital twins, before the name was coined, took place during the Apollo 13 mission, when controllers began to simulate conditions on the damaged spacecraft in order to bring it back to earth safely.
Until recently, digital twins didn’t gain a lot of traction in various industries, because the supporting technologies, such as analytics and necessary network capabilities, were not available. Today, however, digital twins form part of the foundation of industry 4.0 and will contribute to the next manufacturing revolution. In fact, 74% of organizations are expected to adopt digital twins by 2025.
What is a digital twin? Put simply, a digital twin is a connected virtual replica of a physical product, person, place or process. But almost every organization defines the digital twin differently, in terms of how they will implement the technology or the benefits that can be realized from its implementation.
“The digital twin is made up of four parts,” says Sreekanth Jayanti, Associate Vice President and Head, PLM Consulting at HCLTech.
He explains: “The first part is the virtual model of the object. The second is the behavioral model of the object. The third is the object itself and the fourth is the behavior as measured by the sensors in the context of its operating environment.”
A continuous and digital ecosystem
In a typical manufacturing environment, there are multiple digital twins connected through a communication framework (a digital thread) that enables the flow of data between virtual and physical devices.
In a manufacturing plant, every single physical device or machine is a candidate for having a digital twin. But it goes beyond physical objects. The manufacturing process and the entire operations can also become digital twins.
“We have a connected physical world, creating our reality. And there is a virtual world of twins that we can create as an ecosystem. Together, they will become a continuous and digital ecosystem,” says Jayanti.
There are many advantages of implementing digital twins within this ecosystem, including:
- Improving efficiency
Doing anything in the virtual world is significantly cheaper than in the physical world – organizations can experiment and test their hypothesis and scenarios without involving physical devices or causing disruption to operations. This enables organizations to track, monitor, control and optimize the behavior of physical devices, which can help improve efficiency by as much as 20% to 30%, in terms of asset performance, according to Jayanti.
- Developing new revenue streams
Digital twins help create new revenue streams, which drive growth. Companies can offer their products as services and generate revenue through their lifecycle. For example, an automotive manufacturer developing a connected car can not only sell the vehicle itself, but utilize the data to provide allied services and better experience to users. This data can also be used by other organizations like insurance companies, to provide usage-based insurances, and city agencies to plan traffic.
- Enhancing innovation
Often, organizations will release a product that doesn’t match rapidly shifting customer requirements, because of how long it takes to conceptualize, test and deliver a product or service. Digital twins enable organizations to observe shifting customer behavior directly. This provides great insights and inputs for innovating and engineering new products and services that will resonate with the market.
- Improving customer experience
A fourth key advantage is improvements to customer experience. All the data generated by digital twins can be utilized to provide better and reliable performance, which improves customer satisfaction and experience.
Digital twins by industry
Digital twins create a variety of applications that differ by industry.
In asset-heavy manufacturing industries, such as automotive, industrial and aerospace and defense, product twins, manufacturing plant twins and supply chain twins can improve the product innovation, improve production efficiency and create resilient supply chains against ever changing pandemic and political scenarios.
In healthcare and life sciences, organizations can leverage digital twins of people. “In patient care, for example, digital twins of people will enable doctors to monitor vital statistics to control and optimize the dosage of different medicines. Such data can also be used to improve drug testing and reduce the time to market for development of new drugs,” says Jayanti.
In an industry like oil & gas, digital twins can help mitigate the impact of an ageing workforce, creating a single source of truth for all knowledge and asset documentation. In an industry that relies so heavily on large infrastructure and remote machinery, digital twins can detect equipment failure and enable predictive maintenance measures, while minimizing costs of activities like on-site inspections. Digital twins and smart data systems could help oil and gas operators save up to 15% on total decommissioning project cost. In addition, in an industry that relies on drilling, digital twins can test virtual equipment designs to ensure success once a project commences.
Monetizing the digital twin
Digital twin adoption across industries is now increasing. It’s time for organizations to monetize those virtual assets.
“Monetization can happen across the value chain,” says Jayanti.
Again, he points to the automotive industry as an example.
“When automotive manufacturers collect data from their fleets of cars and their passengers, there are many different beneficiaries. Car dealerships want customer data so they can improve customer service and sales figures. Suppliers are interested in component usage patterns to improve vehicle product lifecycles. Insurers can use data from vehicles to offer competitive usage-based insurance to customers. Government and transport agencies can use digital twins for city and traffic planning. Customers can get better products and services. The opportunity to monetize digital twins extends right across the value chain all the way from raw materials to the end customer.”
Companies can leverage digital twin platforms to connect different stakeholders, systems and devices to help collect, connect, disseminate and monetize the data in a secure manner.
Realizing the digital twin ambition
While digital twins and their benefits are being recognized, there are several challenges in realizing the benefits. Availability, quality, interoperability and ownership of models and data, internal and external organizational boundaries and a lack of ability to create a cross functional business case can hinder companies in their transformational journey. Organizations looking to adopt digital twins can leverage a partner to help with the design, implementation and operations of multiple virtual assets.
HCLTech has a rich history in engineering, IT and infrastructure services. Combined with expertise in integrating IT, OT and ET (engineering technology), the foundation of digital twins, and a strong ecosystem of partners, including cloud hyperscalars, with a practitioner's approach and track record is well placed in helping organizations realize their digital ambitions.