Digital Twins: How do they work and why are they so important?

Since the Industrial Age, the journey of how a product comes into existence has been the same – conceptualization, research and development, manufacturing, and then its distribution. This process is filled with numerous trial and error attempts, which often result in the requirement for a higher budget, as well as takes up months, and in some cases years to reach the manufacturing stage.

While this doesn’t seem like a major issue for smaller goods, it becomes more prominent when we look at the manufacturing processes of airplanes, ships, vehicles used in the army, or even commercial vehicles. Wouldn’t it be helpful if we could replicate these manufacturing processes in a software that will in turn significantly lower the time and capital required?

This is where digital twin technology comes in.

A digital twin is a virtual model designed to accurately mirror any physical product.

Let’s take the example of a wind turbine. For creating its digital twin, it’ll be outfitted with various sensors that will help in displaying vital areas of functionality. These sensors will produce data about different aspects of the wind turbine’s performance, such as energy output, temperature, weather conditions, and more. The data collected is then relayed through a processing system and applied to the digital copy. Once equipped with the data, the digital twin can be used to run simulations, study performance, the probable issues, and generate possible improvements, which can then be applied back to the original physical object.

Manufacturing, however, is just one of the many fields where digital twins can be beneficial. Healthcare is another. The use of digital twins in healthcare is revolutionizing clinical processes and hospital management by enhancing medical care with digital tracking and advanced modeling of the human anatomy. Digital twins provide great help to researchers in studying diseases, new drugs, and medical devices. They can also help physicians optimize the performance of patient-specific treatment plans.

While the concept of a digital twin has been around since 2002, it’s only thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT) that it has become cost-effective to implement, making it an essential tool for manufacturers today.

But what makes digital twins so imperative for business today?

Digital twins are powered to drive innovation and performance. The benefits of digital twins are reaped differently depending on when and where the technology is being used. When we talk about using digital twins to monitor existing products, such as a wind turbine or oil pipeline, it can reduce maintenance burdens and save many millions in associated costs.

And when we talk in reference to the technology being used ahead of manufacturing processes, we notice a significant reduction in product defects and the time it takes for the product to hit the market. Other instances where digital twins help in the optimization of resources include process improvements, whether that is the monitoring of staffing levels against output or aligning a supply chain with manufacturing or maintenance requirements.

In a predictive study by IDC, companies that invested in the digital twin technology in 2018, saw a 30 percent improvement in cycle times of critical processes.

All indications seem to predict we are on the cusp of a digital twin technology explosion. There will be billions of things represented by digital twins within the next five years. These proxies of the physical world will lead to new collaboration opportunities among physical world product experts and data scientists. 

The role of digital twins in manufacturing and healthcare makes it a worthy buzzword for 2021 and the years to come ahead. It won’t be late before it’ll be as omnipresent as cloud computing or the IoT—particularly since it goes hand in hand with both of these technologies. The reason for its staying power is pretty simple: digital twins will soon become an industry standard. And, observing the benefits and capabilities offered by this technology, it’s easy to determine why.