Digital Twin: how a virtual model improves analysis and development in the company

5 min

How nice would it be to have a virtual twin to whom we could submit all the challenges we’d like to face but are afraid of the consequences? Making a digital version of ourselves could also serve us to test our limits or to understand how much our minds can handle. A few experimental studies on creating a virtual doppelganger have been done, but for now, the significant results of digital copying are mainly being achieved in companies. When you make a virtual model to duplicate a process, infrastructure, device, or physical location, you open up challenges that, at the same time, accelerate business progress. How? We’ll find out shortly as we examine how it works and what benefits Digital Twin produces in enterprise systems.

What is the Digital Twin?

If we want to give a first definition of the Digital Twin, we can refer to the meaning of the single words that compose it: i.e., the copy, in digital format, of the real data of a machine, a device, or a complex infrastructure. Through the design of a Digital Twin, the company can also simulate the entire physical asset. This simulation takes place thanks to IoT technologies. In fact, it is precisely through networked sensors that we can obtain relevant and useful information to generate a digital twin prototype.

The concept was born in 2002 in Michigan by the expert Michael Grieves during a lecture on Product Lifecycle Management. Grieves initially defined duplication as a “doubleganger.”

While the terminology has changed over time, the basic concept of the Digital Twin model has remained fairly stable from its inception in 2002. It is based on the idea that a digital informational construct about a physical system could be created as an entity on its own. This digital information would be a “twin” of the information that was embedded within the physical system itself and be linked with that physical system through the entire lifecycle of the system.
Dr. Michael Grieves and John Vickers

The digital and physical versions, therefore, would proceed hand-in-hand throughout the life cycle. What are the essential requirements for building a digital twin? First, you need a real device in a physical location; then you need to make the digital twin active in a virtual space; and finally, you need to make the connection through sensors that allow data and information to pass between the real and virtual devices. Obviously, the development time of new technologies, with the Digital Twin, is drastically reduced.

What is the difference between a Digital Twin and computer-aided design software?

Computer-aided design (CAD) software allows me to recreate a three-dimensional space or object in a virtual location. But two fundamental pieces are missing: communication between the virtual prototype and the real object and, in some cases, even the real object itself.

The difference, in fact, is that with CAD, we are talking about the graphic prototype of a real or imaginary object, whose data serve only to reproduce its dimensions and movements. Instead, the digital twin is a true transposition of the real object. How does the replication take place? Through a very high number of sensors positioned inside the system to be reproduced, which constantly input data useful to update the virtual reproduction. The real power of the Digital Twin is that we can simulate action on the object without actually acting on it.

Digital Twin application

Technologies connected to the virtual twin

Information between the physical and digital devices flows through connected sensors. However, a Digital Twin project also interfaces with other digital innovations, such as:

  • Artificial Intelligence: for failure prediction and prototype improvement through algorithms that enable learning;
  • the cloud: which holds the enormous amount of data to be processed and on which Digital Twin’s software could be based;
  • connectivity: not only the sensors but also the speed of connection is important to allow the constant passage of data essential for prediction and simulation.

A process monitored in this way allows a considerable reduction in risk percentages and an acceleration of performance.


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What are the applications of Digital Twin?

Today, the scope of the Digital Twin has expanded considerably compared to the first projects, which mostly involved machinery and processes in the manufacturing industry. Nevertheless, it is precisely in intelligent factories that this technology makes all the difference, especially for companies approaching Industry 4.0.

In fact, when you connect an Artificial Intelligence software to the machinery or device you have chosen to replicate virtually, you open up various possibilities for analysis and monitoring. That is, you can:

  • evaluate the cause/effect of the phenomena that occur;
  • to detect the state of usury of the components;
  • to make one simulation of load in order to verify the resistance.

A relevant example is the simulation of aircraft and ship engines. The experimentation on a virtual twin, in this case, allows to increase the performances and to reduce the risks, but it also has a purpose nobler, that is that one to save human life.

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What will be the future applications of the Digital Twin?

Digital Twin experimentation also involves sectors other than manufacturing, which feel the need to monitor or simulate complex phenomena while reducing risks. Here are some examples:

Smart City

That even cities are becoming digital is nothing new. The applications are right in front of our eyes: from paying for parking with the RFID card to creating three-dimensional digital maps that show you exactly where you are. Smart cities are not such a distant future. Indeed, the Big Players are already working on them, not only with Digital Twin technologies but also with the future intelligent twin. The difficulty, in this case, is represented by objects in constant movement, but the potential offered by this bet is very high, also and above all for citizens.

Healthcare

Personalized care for the patient, the study of new drugs, but above all, an acceleration in the approval of experimental medications: these are all possible challenges thanks to the Digital Twin application in the medical field. The possibility to test treatments on a digital prototype is a big step forward. Moreover, the digital simulation could reduce costs, and life-saving therapies could be brought to market with more excellent safety for patients.

Automotive

The main effect of applying the digital twin to the automotive industry is to reduce development time, as these are complex processes. Park Dong-il, vice president of Hyundai Motor, says, “It takes time to build a system since we need huge data, but once we have a digital twin, we can greatly advance the manufacturing process.” Simulating an engine’s twin means predicting failure well in advance or boosting performance without generating any physical damage.

In the enterprise, doing digital replication of physical assets means pressing the foot on the accelerator. All processes will become faster and risk-free. The Digital Twin is the trump card for innovative companies that invest time and resources in research and development.

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