Digital twinning has been making waves as the latest evolution from ‘Industry 4.0’. In a nutshell, a digital twin is a virtual replica of a physical object or process powered through IoT devices. Oleksandr Maidaniuk looks at how digital twins are being used and where resilience fits into the picture.
A digital twin may sound futuristic, but it’s just another property of Industry 4.0. Put simply, a digital twin mimics a physical product, process, or service through various devices, pairing the virtual and real worlds. This technology can have a number of use cases, from the retail industry tracking and tracing products along the supply chain, to the automotive industry planning the real vehicle systems that make up your car. This virtual prototyping brings unprecedented visibility into businesses’ assets and production, letting real-world companies harness the power of digital twin technology to reinvent their operations.
Powering this futuristic technology are Internet of Things (IoT) enabled devices. To create a digital twin, real-time data must be pulled from physical objects to produce simulations and predictions to optimise components, processes, and systems. By bringing together the IoT with digital twins, organizations can benefit from the information of the physical world enabling the digital twins to leverage the data into a continuous, seamless creation process, thus delivering greater resilience.
Enhanced innovation and better performance
Digital twins are driving a revolution in real-world sectors, such as smart cities, where planners use sensors and simulations to monitor traffic congestion, air pollution, and public health, helping to deliver environmentally-friendly and citizen-centric policies and services. In the next two years, it is estimated that 500 global smart cities will be using digital twins.
Regarding construction and real estate, virtual prototyping enables developers to assess designs, minimising build time and costs while maximising energy efficiency. Furthermore, IoT-enabled digital twins can provide better visibility of progress monitoring, resource planning, and logistics, which again helps reduce costs while improving efficiency.
When it comes to logistics, organizations are using IoT sensors and digital twins to boost volume utilisation, develop more sustainable packaging materials, and proactively anticipate equipment malfunctions. Such predictive maintenance plays a crucial role in enhancing business continuity and resilience. At the same time, the technology is being deployed to improve warehouse planning, configuration, and management.
Staying on track and ahead of the pack
One sector where this technology is really taking root is the automotive industry. Here vehicle manufacturers are in a race to bring stable, trusted, and safe autonomous driving to the market. They are gathering operational and behavioural data on the road and using it to produce digital twins, allowing engineers to concentrate on everything from potential design improvements and safety improvements, to process efficiency and beyond.
Market leader Tesla provides a fine example, creating digital twins for every model, while Nissan uses virtual models in real time to pinpoint the cause of battery leaks, optimise storage space, and reduce pallet volumes. Meanwhile, Mercedes is employing digital twins to replicate the entire production process, improving efficiency, bolstering resilience, and boosting time to market.
At the apex of the sector, where car racing teams really are at the cutting edge, many are using turbo-charged virtual simulators which exactly imitate the track experience and weather conditions. Engineers can then leverage the insights gathered and apply them to vehicle design and aerodynamics, both of which are key to winning on the track.
One of the most ambitious proponents of digital twins is BMW, which has begun rolling out its Nvidia Omniverse platform to build state-of-the-art factories and integrate the various back-end and front-end systems at scale so its tech stack can scale and support analytics, AI, and digital twin simulations across 31 manufacturing plants, with the first opening in 2025. This is how digital twins can optimise plans, designs, and logistics long before production begins in earnest. Furthermore, using this virtual space, BMW can enable close collaboration between geographically dispersed teams to enhance efficiency.
Leading the field with manufacturing
Perhaps the industry that has seen the most enthusiastic embrace of digital twins is manufacturing, where businesses are used to providing complete real-time visibility of production and processes from first design to prototype to final assembly. This means manufacturers can develop and test their latest innovations in a sandbox environment without disrupting existing production lines or affecting lead times.
Thus, companies have limitless opportunities to experiment and explore real-world use cases without needing the significant investments associated with historical research and development programmes. At the same time, accurate and detailed simulations of the manufacturing processes ensure that what is finally produced matches the initial design perfectly.
One sector within manufacturing which is making great use of digital twin technology is aerospace. Here, Boeing engineers are conducting virtual simulations on various aircraft components to measure their reliability, robustness, and longevity. By helping to anticipate component performance and predict potential failures, this allows the company to uphold the highest safety standards for passengers and crew while improving the overall resilience.
The future is virtual
As we have seen, organizations across multiple sectors are using digital twins to boost innovation, become more competitive and develop hyper-personalised services and products. As the use of this technology continues to grow, the IoT ecosystem will continue to play a critical role in bringing our real and virtual worlds together.
Oleksandr Maidaniuk is VP Technology at Intellias.