Digital Twinning: Leaders in the Emerging Technology
As digital twinning technology continues to advance, industry leaders are stepping up their innovation efforts to bring together the physical and virtual world.
Digital twinning refers to having a digital replica of real entities like people, processes, physical assets, systems, and devices. This technology has emerged due to the advances in IIoT in recent years.
Digital twins are different from simulations in a few different ways. When simulations operate in a hypothetical environment, the digital twin works with the real-world values experienced by the physical entity.
The physical entity is fitted with an array of sensors to measure the real-time physical attributes experienced by the entity. This is sent to the digital twin that generally resides in the cloud to mimic the actual operation of the machine.
Digital twins are virtual models of physical assets. Image courtesy of GE.
Digital twinning is suitable for a lot of applications in a variety of industries, like manufacturing, automotive, healthcare, and aerospace. It helps to reduce cost, monitor assets, improve maintenance, reduce downtime, run simulations, and predict future conditions using machine learning techniques.
How Does It Work?
The physical entity whose twin is to be created should be integrated with sensors that gather real-time data on the status, position, working conditions, and environment variables of the physical object. It can be of a machine, a process, or a complete facility.
The data is fed to a cloud-based system that is analyzed from sensors. Machine learning algorithms are used to extract useful information from the data. Digital twinning can have visualization with CAD models, or it can operate without any visualization option. Virtual reality and augmented reality technologies can also be utilized in visualization.
As an example, all the automobiles sold by a manufacturer have a digital twin residing on the cloud which receives information constantly from the actual automobile that is in operation. If one of the vehicles in the entire fleet shows an anomaly, the entire fleet can be checked for the same anomaly and prevent that from happening in other vehicles.
The vehicles can also have custom servicing intervals according to the requirement of each car rather than a stipulated cut-off. Insurance discounts can also be provided according to the usage data from the vehicle.
The digital twin model can be used for a variety of purposes. Additionally, it can be used to predict the failure of equipment. This can be used to take preventive action in advance. It can be used to monitor assets in remote and inaccessible locations.
NASA monitoring assets in space is an example. The same principle can be used to monitor assets in radioactive environments or other harsh working conditions. The digital twin can be used to run simulations with real-time data. Digital twinning and its industrial applications with SCADA is discussed in detail in this article.
History of Digital Twins
The concept of digital twins was first predicted in the book “Mirror Worlds” by David Gelernter in 1991. David Gelernter is a computer scientist, writer and is a professor in computer science at Yale University. In the book, he anticipated that the whole world can be mimicked using software on a computer.
Michael Grieves was believed to be the first person to introduce the concept of digital twins in the manufacturing space in 2002. He introduced the concept and the model at the Society of Manufacturing Engineers conference. He proposed the digital twin model as a Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) tool.
NASA has toyed with the concept for a long time. NASA is the perfect candidate for the implementation of digital twinning as the equipment the engineers have to monitor is in space, which is a considerable distance from the ground operations centers of NASA. Having a digital replica of the equipment with real-time data is handy for the engineers. The concept had different names within NASA the term “digital twin” was used by John Vickers of NASA in a 2010 Roadmap Report and the name stuck.
Realizing the potential in automation, the technology was adopted by automation specialists in the industry. Developments in IIoT have dramatically improved the viability of digital twinning. Since it is a juncture of automation and the internet, both automation and internet companies are actively developing and improving digital twinning technology.
Digital Twinning Pioneers
Top players in information technology and industrial automation are leading the digital twinning innovation. With the large-scale adoption of 5G getting closer, the race to be the top player in digital twinning is heating up. These are some of the largest companies creating digital twinning solutions.
GE is a pioneer in industrial automation and has been providing digital twinning solutions for various industries. GE provides these solutions to bring lifecycle decision making. In 2019, GE helped its clients manage digital twins for more than 8,000 assets and was able to generate documented saving on $187 million.
GE implements these solutions for jet engines in flight, submersible pumps in oil wells, turbines on power plants, and packaging palletizing machines in manufacturing.
The digital twinning solutions work with Predix and APM reliability software from GE. These solutions are provided adjunct to asset performance management and operations performance management solutions from GE.
High-level component view of digital twin implementation by IBM. Image courtesy of IBM.
IBM Watson is the brain behind IoT solutions from IBM. With the digital twinning implementation from IBM, they intend to completely overhaul the operating models for asset-intensive industries. Its solutions are geared to improve operational yields and asset performance in the field.
Siemens's digital enterprise suite and Mindsphere are the software solutions that can be used to create digital twins with Siemens. They provide a path to implementation of Industry 4.0 solutions including digital twinning in a step-by-step manner rather than a complete overhaul. This allows for flexibility and cost advantages to their clients.
Azure is the IoT solutions platform from Microsoft. Azure helps to create comprehensive digital models of entire environments such as buildings, factories, farms, energy networks, railways, stadiums. Azure helps to build connected digital models of any scale and build business logic and data processing with analytics and AI tools from Azure.
Azure has an open modeling language called Digital Twins Definition Language (DTDL) which can be used to define state properties, telemetry events, commands, components, and relationships of the asset to be modeled. Azure also helps to create live execution environments with the help of Azure Digital Twins Explorer application.
Digital twining implementation concept by PTC Inc. Image courtesy of PTC.
PTC is a software and services company specializing in Industrial IoT, PLM, and CAD-based solutions for different industries. PTC helps manufacturers understand how their customers are using their products, helping to improve the design and performance of those products.
PTC uses various technologies on the data collected to provide meaningful insights into the behavior of customers to the manufacturer. ThingWorx, Vuforia, and Creo are the solutions used to create digital twins with PTC. They provide digital twinning solutions as part of their PLM solutions.
Some of the other companies that have solutions for digital twinning are Ansys Inc., SAP, Oracle, AWS, SWIM.AI Inc., Robert Bosch, Dassault Systems, Schneider Electric, ASCon Systems, and AVEVA group.
Due to its wide range of uses across the industrial sector and beyond, digital twinning technologies will continue to advance and become more widely used in the coming years.