Digital Twins Invade Industry

By Castelluccio, Michael | Strategic Finance, March 2018 | Go to article overview

Digital Twins Invade Industry


Castelluccio, Michael, Strategic Finance


An important development in the loT (Internet of Things) was the introduction of digital twins about two years ago. A digital twin is a digital replica of a material object that includes the real objects physical assets, processes, and systems. Sensors are embedded in the material twin so that it can stream information to its network-connected digital counterpart.

Wikipedia elaborates further on the purpose of twinning: "Digital twins integrate artificial intelligence, machine learning, and software analytics with data to create living digital simulation models that update and change as their physical counterparts change." They function as "living models," continuously learning and updating from the data streaming from the embedded sensors in their real-world double. Over time, the digital twin collects a valuable, complex information base that can be very useful. That knowledge can enable real-time monitoring and troubleshooting for predictive maintenance of an entire fleet of deployed products. Long term, the data can also be an innovation platform for an iterative design process--producing an evolving redesign based on the experience of the products in the real world.

GE was instrumental in the introduction of digital twins, and it describes four different types: parts twins, product twins, process twins, and system twins.

Some of the manufactured products that can benefit from digital twins include aircraft engines, automobiles, and locomotives. In one demonstration, a GE spokesperson describes how heat sensors in a turbine alerted the engineers back at the company about excessive friction and consequent wear that would likely shorten the life of the engine. After the sensor data streams were analyzed, the company decided to shift one of the processes in that part of the turbine to another system within the same machine. The demo even included the speaker donning augmented reality glasses to "actually see" within the digital twin where the problem was located.

Both IBM and Siemens describe their approaches to twinning with three practical modes for their applications. IBM describes their uses as design, manufacture, and operation, and Siemens has different terms for the same three applications: ideation, realization, and utilization. Digital twins are widely used for all three of these stages of manufacture and application. They can be an important tool, as well, in designing the very assembly line on which the subsequent twinned products will be assembled. …

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