What are Digital Twins and how can you use them for your business?

Digital twins are one of the most exciting and promising technologies in the era of digital transformation. They can help you optimize your products, processes, and systems, as well as unlock new opportunities for innovation and growth. But what exactly are digital twins and how can you use them for your business?

What are Digital Twins and how can you use them for your business?
Written by
Carlos Virreira
Published on
June 26, 2023

What are Digital Twins and how can you use them for your business?

Digital twins are one of the most exciting and promising technologies in the era of digital transformation. They can help you optimize your products, processes, and systems, as well as unlock new opportunities for innovation and growth. But what exactly are digital twins and how can you use them for your business?

What is a digital twin?

A digital representation of a physical asset can be considered a twin

A digital twin is a virtual representation of an object or system that spans its lifecycle, is updated from real-time data, and uses simulation, machine learning and reasoning to help decision-making1. A digital twin can be created for any physical entity, such as a product, a process, a machine, a building, a city, or even a human body.

A digital twin is not just a static model or a simulation. It is a dynamic and interactive environment that mirrors the physical counterpart in every aspect. It can capture the structure, behavior, performance, and context of the physical entity, as well as its interactions with other entities and the environment. It can also run various scenarios and experiments to test and improve the physical entity’s outcomes.

A digital twin is connected to the physical entity through sensors and communication channels that enable a two-way flow of information. The sensors collect data from the physical entity and send it to the digital twin, where it is processed and analyzed. The digital twin then generates insights and recommendations that are sent back to the physical entity or to other stakeholders. This feedback loop allows the digital twin to learn from the physical entity and vice versa.

Types of digital twins

There are various types of digital twins depending on the level of product magnification. The biggest difference between these twins is the area of application. It is common to have different types of digital twins co-exist within a system or process2. Let’s go through the types of digital twins to learn the differences and how they are applied.

Component twins/Parts twins

Component twins are the basic unit of the digital twin, the smallest example of a functioning component. Parts twins are roughly the same thing, but pertain to components of slightly less importance. For example, a component twin could be a sensor or an actuator in a machine, while a parts twin could be a screw or a nut. Component twins and parts twins can help monitor the health and performance of individual components and parts, as well as detect faults and anomalies.

Asset twins

When two or more components work together, they form what is known as an asset. Asset twins let you study the interaction of those components, creating a wealth of performance data that can be processed and then turned into actionable insights1. For example, an asset twin could be a wind turbine or an engine that consists of multiple components and parts. Asset twins can help optimize the operation and maintenance of assets, as well as improve their design and engineering.

System twins

When two or more assets work together, they form what is known as a system. System twins let you study the interaction of those assets, creating a holistic view of the system’s functionality and efficiency2. For example, a system twin could be a power plant or a factory that consists of multiple assets and processes. System twins can help coordinate and integrate the activities of different assets and processes, as well as enhance their productivity and quality.

Process twins

When two or more systems work together, they form what is known as a process. Process twins let you study the interaction of those systems, creating a comprehensive understanding of the process’s outcomes and impacts2. For example, a process twin could be an energy grid or a supply chain that consists of multiple systems and stakeholders. Process twins can help optimize and innovate the process’s operations and strategies, as well as measure and improve its performance and sustainability.

How to use digital twins for your business?

Digital twins can offer many benefits for your business across different domains and industries. They can help you:

  • Reduce costs: Digital twins can help you save money by improving your asset utilization, reducing your downtime, enhancing your maintenance efficiency, lowering your energy consumption, minimizing your waste generation, optimizing your inventory management, streamlining your logistics operations, etc.
  • Increase revenues: Digital twins can help you generate more income by improving your product quality, increasing your customer satisfaction, enhancing your service delivery, creating new business models, offering new value propositions, expanding your market reach, etc.
  • Mitigate risks: Digital twins can help you avoid losses by improving your safety standards, Improve quality: Digital twins can help you enhance your product quality by improving your design and engineering processes, testing and validating your product features and functions, detecting and resolving defects and errors, ensuring compliance and standards, etc.
  • Innovate faster: Digital twins can help you accelerate your innovation cycle by enabling faster prototyping and experimentation, reducing development time and costs, facilitating collaboration and feedback, supporting agile and iterative methods, etc.

To illustrate how digital twins can be used for your business, let’s look at some examples of digital twin applications and use cases across different industries.

Aerospace

Aerospace tasks are intrinsically complex. End products like aircraft and spacecraft are massively expensive to design and build, making it all the more imperative to get work done right the first time in order to avoid costly delays. From design and engineering all the way through to assembly and maintenance, digital twins improve decision-making by allowing teams to visualize and interact with computer-aided design (CAD) models and other datasets in real-time 3D1.

Some of the use cases of digital twins in aerospace are:

  • Product development and prototyping: 3D visualization enables designers, engineers and other stakeholders to better collaborate and evaluate design and manufacturing alternatives for complex systems.
  • Simulation and training: Engaging training experiences in interactive 3D or augmented or virtual reality (AR and VR) enable better knowledge transfer and safer workplaces.
  • Maintenance and operations: Creating work instructions in mixed reality from as-built models from design and manufacturing can simplify and optimize inspection, maintenance, and repair activities.
  • Sales and marketing: Virtual showrooms and 3D product configurators empower buyers to explore every variation of aircraft and make purchasing decisions more confidently.

An example of a company that uses digital twins in aerospace is Boeing. Boeing created an AR-powered aircraft inspection application using a digital twin of one of its planes. The twin enabled this aerospace industry leader to generate over 100,000 synthetic images to better train the machine learning algorithms of the AR application.

Architecture

At the start of a project, architects produce design materials, including renderings and models, to allow clients to evaluate and approve the design. The problem is there’s no shared, collaborative environment with stakeholders to make decisions in real-time. Communicating design intent during traditional reviews is a difficult process. Static 2D and 3D models cause details to be lost in translation, renderings aren’t flexible enough, and not everyone is on the same page. Digital twins solve these problems so there’s no more costly mistakes1.

Some of the use cases of digital twins in architecture are:

  • Design review: Architects and designers can easily bring design models into an immersive experience in AR

and VR to facilitate interactive, real-time design reviews. They can also invite clients and other stakeholders to join the immersive experience and provide feedback and approval.

  • Construction planning: Architects and contractors can use digital twins to plan and coordinate the construction process, such as scheduling, budgeting, resource allocation, site management, etc. They can also use digital twins to monitor the progress and quality of the construction work and identify and resolve any issues or risks.
  • Facility management: Architects and facility managers can use digital twins to optimize the operation and maintenance of buildings, such as energy consumption, indoor environment quality, security, safety, etc. They can also use digital twins to enhance the user experience and satisfaction of the occupants and visitors.

An example of a company that uses digital twins in architecture is Foster + Partners. Foster + Partners is a global studio for architecture, urbanism and design that uses digital twins to create innovative and sustainable solutions for its clients. The company uses Unity’s real-time 3D platform to create digital twins of its projects and enable immersive collaboration and communication with its clients and partners.

Automotive

The automotive industry is undergoing a major transformation driven by trends such as electrification, autonomous driving, connectivity, and shared mobility. These trends pose new challenges and opportunities for automotive manufacturers and suppliers who need to deliver high-quality, safe, and efficient vehicles that meet customer expectations and regulatory requirements. Digital twins can help the automotive industry overcome these challenges and seize these opportunities by enabling faster and smarter product development, manufacturing, and service.

Some of the use cases of digital twins in automotive are:

  • Product development and prototyping: Digital twins enable engineers to design and test new vehicle models and features in a virtual environment, reducing the need for physical prototypes and testing facilities. They can also use digital twins to optimize the performance, reliability, safety, and sustainability of vehicles across different scenarios and conditions.
  • Manufacturing optimization: Digital twins enable manufacturers to simulate and optimize the production process, such as machine layout, assembly flow, quality control, etc. They can also use digital twins to monitor and control the production equipment and detect and prevent any faults or defects.
  • Service and maintenance: Digital twins enable service providers to monitor the health and performance of vehicles in real-time, diagnose any problems or issues remotely, provide predictive maintenance recommendations, etc. They can also use digital twins to provide personalized service offerings and enhance customer loyalty.

An example of a company that uses digital twins in automotive is Volkswagen. Volkswagen is one of the world’s leading automobile manufacturers that uses digital twins to improve its product development

and manufacturing processes. The company uses Siemens’ NX software to create digital twins of its vehicles and components and perform various simulations and tests in a virtual environment. The company also uses Siemens’ Teamcenter software to manage the data and workflows of its digital twins across different teams and locations.

Challenges and opportunities of digital twins

As discussed in this article, digital twins technology has many advantages; however, the technology currently faces shared challenges in parallel with AI and IoT technologies. Those include data standardization, data management, and data security, as well as barriers to its implementation and legacy system transformation.

Some of the challenges of digital twins are:

  • Data standardization: There is a lack of common standards and protocols for data exchange and interoperability among different digital twin platforms and applications. This hinders the integration and collaboration of digital twins across different domains and industries.
  • Data management: There is a huge amount of data generated and consumed by digital twins, which poses challenges for data storage, processing, analysis, and visualization. This requires advanced data management techniques and tools to handle the data volume, velocity, variety, and veracity.
  • Data security: There is a risk of data breaches and cyberattacks on digital twins, which can compromise the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data and systems. This requires robust data security measures and policies to protect the data and systems from unauthorized access and manipulation.
  • Implementation barriers: There are various technical, organizational, and cultural barriers that hinder the adoption and implementation of digital twins. These include high costs, lack of skills, resistance to change, regulatory issues, etc.

On the other hand, digital twins also offer many opportunities for future development and innovation. Some of the opportunities are:

  • Emerging technologies: Digital twins can leverage emerging technologies such as 5G, edge computing, blockchain, quantum computing, etc., to enhance their capabilities and performance. For example, 5G can enable faster and more reliable data transmission and communication for digital twins; edge computing can enable faster and more efficient data processing and analysis for digital twins; blockchain can enable more secure and transparent data sharing and transactions for digital twins; quantum computing can enable more complex and accurate simulations and optimizations for digital twins.
  • New applications: Digital twins can enable new applications and use cases across different domains and industries that were not possible before. For example, digital twins can enable personalized healthcare by creating digital replicas of human organs or systems; digital twins can enable smart cities by creating digital replicas of urban infrastructure or services; digital twins can enable immersive education by creating digital replicas of historical or cultural sites or events.
  • New business models: Digital twins can enable new business models

and value propositions that were not possible before. For example, digital twins can enable product-as-a-service models by allowing manufacturers to offer their products as services based on usage or performance; digital twins can enable outcome-based models by allowing service providers to offer their services based on outcomes or results; digital twins can enable platform-based models by allowing platform owners to offer their platforms as marketplaces or ecosystems for digital twins.

Conclusion

Digital twins are a powerful and disruptive technology that can transform the way we design, build, operate, and maintain physical objects and systems. They can help us optimize our products, processes, and systems, as well as unlock new opportunities for innovation and growth. However, they also pose some challenges and require some prerequisites for their successful adoption and implementation. Therefore, it is important for businesses to understand the potential and limitations of digital twins and how to use them effectively for their specific needs and goals.

If you are interested in learning more about digital twins and how they can benefit your business, you can contact us at www.shelf.nu. We are a leading provider of digital twin solutions and services that can help you create, manage, and leverage your digital twins across different domains and industries. We can help you:

  • Define your digital twin strategy and roadmap
  • Design and develop your digital twin solutions
  • Integrate and connect your digital twin platforms and applications
  • Analyze and optimize your digital twin data and insights
  • Innovate and scale your digital twin use cases and business models

We hope you enjoyed this blog post and found it informative and useful. Please feel free to share it with your colleagues and network. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to our blog for more insights on digital twins and other emerging technologies. Thank you for reading!

Article by
Carlos Virreira

Founder / Vision Lead at Shelf.nu

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What are Digital Twins and how can you use them for your business?
Carlos Virreira
Co-Founder Shelf

Founder / Vision Lead at Shelf.nu

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