The Path to Digital Twins
As we build a parallel world in the ether, the barriers withholding the physical will crumble
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The Digital Twins concept is entering mainstream. The core principle is, for a physical entity or an asset, a digital equivalent exists in the virtual world. To duplicate our real-world into a virtual copy, multiple technologies—3D simulation, IoT, 4G/5G, Big Data, blockchain, Edge and cloud computing, and artificial intelligence—are required to come together.
As we build a parallel world in the ether, the barriers withholding the physical will crumble. Distances won't matter. Imagination will run wild. History replayed at will.
A whole new world (and experience) is on the horizon, opening up new business opportunities for the IT suppliers and the buyers. How and where do the enterprises get started? What is the path to Digital Twins? Let's find out.
The Digital Twin Ecosystem
In the previous article, we explored the three types of Digital Twins—Product Twins, Production Twins and Performance Twins. In this writeup, let's go a level deeper to understand the deployment aspects of the Digital Twins and the larger ecosystem.
First, let's familiarize ourselves with a few concepts (courtesy Michael Grieves, University of Michigan) pertaining to the Digital Twin ecosystem:
- Digital Twin Prototype (DTP): A DTP is the prototype of the physical asset. It's like a recipe for creating an asset. The prototypes, dependent on the situation, will contain information pertaining to the physical attributes, properties, operating parameters, bill of materials, part numbers and more. The DTP is like the master-copy for reference.
- Digital Twin Instance (DTI): A DTI (created from the DTP) is the twin of a physical asset. The DTI stays linked to the physical asset through its lifecycle. The DTI, typically, contains data relating to in-use conditions as captured through the sensors, historical state, predicted state, asset and warranty information, service records, etc. While a DTI starts with the baseline information from its prototype, over the course of the lifecycle, the DTI gets enriched with operational data.
- Digital Twin Aggregate (DTA): A DTA is an aggregate of many DTIs. The DTIs may be co-located within one entity (e.g., 100 motors in a single factory) or across entities (e.g., 100 motors across 25 factories). The purpose of DTA? It is well-established a group behavior is not the sum of individual behavior. Likewise, in the future, DTAs might reveal unknown and unexpected insights.
The Digital Twin Environment (DTE) is a collection of the above components, the Digital Twin arena for the predictive and the interrogative operations.
Integrating the Digital Twins
The start of the Digital Twin journey could either be horizontal (e.g., integrating a process) or vertical (e.g., integrating a component), with the ultimate aim of a virtual replica of the entire set-up (e.g., a manufacturing plant, smart city or a highway network).
The business need, availability of the skills and the technology would determine the route to take for the enterprises. Large OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) have started offering Digital Twins for their equipment. This is a start. Yet, to get to the desired state, large scale systems integration and custom development effort are required. (Digital Twins market segment is poised to grow at a healthy 38-plus per cent CAGR.)
As the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tze said, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step". The first step has already been taken. Digital is the norm, not an exception, today. Enterprises need to build on top, for an enriching journey. It wouldn't come as a surprise, if buyers of the future, expect Digital Twins as a mandatory deliverable. Or, would we get to see an open marketplace for Digital Twins?