What is digital twin technology and how are companies using it?
In the next future, digital twins are going to radically change the design, production, sales and maintenance of many products
According to Gartner, digital twin technology is among the five emerging trends that will drive technological innovation over the next decade. But what is a digital twin and how does it work?
What is digital twin technology?
Digital twin technology allows companies to create a virtual representation of an object, a person, a process, or even a place.
Using sensors and other sources, companies can collect data from the physical world and create a digital replica that they can use to simulate the behaviour of the real object, person, or system.
Indeed, any changes made to the virtual model produce a real-time update that allows companies to understand the consequences of possible actions and decisions. For example, a designer of wind turbines can use digital twin technology to test the effect of different designs on the behaviour of the turbine in different conditions before any physical prototype is built. Moreover, digital twins can be used to monitor the performance of existing products and identify problems early.
There are two types of digital twins:
- Static digital twins are digital replicas of objects that don't change too much over time, like a building or a piece of machinery.
- Dynamic digital twins are constantly updated with data from the physical world and so they change over time, like a person or an animal.
Advantages of the digital twins
Digital twin technology has several advantages, including:
- optimize the performance of products and systems by testing and simulating changes before they are made in the real world;
- helping companies to identify problems before they happen;
- enable predictive maintenance: digital twins can be used to predict when equipment will need maintenance and plan accordingly.
- increasing the efficiency of decision-making;
- reduce costs and time of designing, developing, and operating products and systems. Digital twins lead to leaner development cycles, reducing product development times by 25%, with savings of around 10-15%.
- improve the quality of products and services: digital twins can be used to monitor and track the performance of products and systems in the field, identify problems, and recommend solutions.
- enhance customer satisfaction by creating personalised customer experiences;
- increase safety and reduce risks by monitoring critical systems and identifying potential safety hazards;
- facilitate compliance with regulations by tracking and managing data, ensuring that companies comply with regulatory requirements;
- create new business opportunities, by developing new products and services or improving existing ones.
Applications of digital twin technology
Digital twins have a wide range of applications, including:
- Fashion & Apparel - To design collections and create virtual fashion shows without the need to produce expensive and time-consuming sample collections.
- Manufacturing, to optimise production processes by simulating different manufacturing scenarios.
- Healthcare, to personalise patient care, for example by simulating the effect of a new medication on a digital replica of the patient's body.
- Buildings and infrastructure, to manage and optimise the performance of buildings and infrastructure, for example by detecting faults.
- Smart Cities, to manage and understand the complex systems of a city, for example by simulating the impact of new development on traffic patterns.
- Automotive, to develop and test new car designs (especially autonomous vehicles) and optimise production processes.
- Retail, to create personalised customer experiences and optimise stock levels.
- Oil and gas, to manage the exploration and production of oil and gas resources.
- Aerospace, to develop and test new aircraft designs.
- Banking and finance, to detect and prevent financial crimes.
Examples of companies using digital twin technology
A number of companies are already using digital twin technology, for example:
- Diesel Introduced a new sneaker, ‘The Prototype’, accompanied by a limited edition NFT created by The Fabricant
- GE uses digital twin technology in a variety of industries, including healthcare, transportation, and jet engines manufacturing.
- Airbus is using it to design and build aircraft.
- Siemens is using it to optimise the performance of its products and processes.
- NASA has used digital twins of the International Space Station to diagnose and fix problems that occur in orbit.
Innovation and challenges
Although this technology is still in its early stages, it has the potential to revolutionise the way we do business. Indeed, digital twins represent the pinnacle of Industry 4.0. In fact, they are the result of the growing diffusion of data analytics, IoT, cloud computing, Artificial Intelligence, and Blockchain. All these technologies are already having a strong impact on the operations of companies in any sector, from agriculture to industry. But the experimental and predictive potential of digital twins allows a revolutionary digital continuity that covers all phases, from conception to production up to after-sales services.
However, digital twin technology faces some challenges.
One is the issue of data privacy and security. For a digital twin to be accurate, it needs a lot of data that need to be protected from unauthorised access and misuse.
Another challenge is the cost of developing and maintaining digital twins. First of all, the collection and storage of data can be expensive. Additionally, digital twins need to be updated regularly as the real-world objects they represent may change over time. This requires ongoing investment from companies.
Despite these challenges, digital twins hold great promise for the future. And as data becomes more accessible and computing power continues to increase, they will become more realistic and their applications will become more widespread.