Gartner have spoken; and in their report on the top 10 tech trends of 2019, Digital Twins (DT) are not only high on their list, but their proliferation is predicted as staggering.
Gartner, the leading research and advisory group, predict that over 50% of large industrial companies will be employing Digital Twins within just two years. And the reason, they say is clear; it leads to a 10% improvement in effectiveness. I’m sure you’ll agree, that in an increasingly incremental business world, a 10% gain of anything is phenomenal.
What are Digital Twins?
DT’s are not brand new. N.A.S.A. used an early version when Apollo 13 ran into trouble in 1970. So, what are they? A Digital Twin is a live, connected, digital-mirror of an actual physical object or system. And it dynamically represents the actual state of the physical version, in real time - using the Internet of Things (IoT) to transmit live data. i.e. It’s not just a CAD drawing of the object, or just the sensors, data, or analytics. It’s a rich and versatile resource that combines all of those technologies to show what’s happening to the real object – inside and out. And the concept can be applied to anything you can put (increasingly cheap) sensors to: from a piston in a car engine, to an aircon system, space ship, entire building… or city.
Benefits of Digital Twins
The benefits of DT vary depending on how they’re used and what scale you’re working on. Today, Bugatti uses them because, like N.A.S.A. astronauts, you really can’t afford to lose too many £2m Veyrons. It allows them to predict not just what the raw car will do, but what customers might do with them, and how they can be tailored to their needs.
In other fields, engineers could be stress-testing a washing machine for wear and tear or the consequences of heavier loads.
The benefits go beyond testing though. If configured to do so, a DT can mirror and control its real-world object – completing the loop. For example, an Operations Manager can remotely suspend a machine after its digital twin indicates excessive heat.
Additionally, DTs can make a huge impact on any in-field service. Digital Twin technology can alert a remote technician to the specific problem, allow visual inspection prior to arrival, and provide access to historical data that might have led to the issue. This ensures that the technician arrives with the tools, knowledge, and context needed to fix the problem on the first try. This is particularly useful for sites that are not readily available for inspection due to complexity, distance, or danger. As it stands, nearly a quarter of all field-service requests are not resolved on the first attempt, requiring a follow-up to complete the job. DTs also mean that by seeing the data changing, problems can often be addressed predictively - before they physically happen.
Whatever the specifics, David Cearley at Gartner wraps the benefits up well, saying; “DTOs help drive efficiencies in business processes, as well as create more flexible, dynamic and responsive processes that can potentially react to changing conditions automatically.” And, of course, over time, as you accumulate data, you can make better and better decisions about the future.
How we use them and what we gain from DTs is still evolving, but there's money to get out, and money to be put in.
It’s clear that for anyone operating a complex industrial system this technology can improve how you use your assets, reduce your downtime, lower maintenance costs and improve efficiency by reducing asset downtime. But, today there’s still investment needed at R&D level on software, algorithms and analytics.
It’s bigger than just a tech problem and opportunity through: As Gartner point out the real truth is that DTs don’t live in isolation “Both the business concept and model must be tested against an economic architecture – revenue, profits, return on investment (ROI), cost optimization – and a way to measure progress as the products/services are rolling out.”
Plus, the data revealed through DT’s can be used by many stakeholders. e.g. Data from a car could be used by – manufacturers, city-infrastructure designers, insurance companies, the law, the driver and others. This means there’s value to be had; but also data to be protected, risks ascertained, and ownerships established. What are the digital ethics involved?
Digital twins can be made for anything, from a single part to an entire power plant, city and even our bodies themselves (as featured in Star Trek and every other Sci Fi film). Perhaps we’ll have impending illnesses predicted and addressed before they happen. Perhaps everything will have a DT.
One thing is for sure: We’re only at the mouth of the rabbit’s warren just now. Increasingly we’ll see AI, and AR brought into play, alongside automated processes, self-repair mechanisms, and enhanced training simulations.
Today, at SSE we’re using the IoT in our Remote Optimal product. The analytics it delivers help clients understand their buildings and how they can build their company’s performance… Plus, we can spot and repair most faults before they happen, and increase machine lifespans. It’s exciting and fruitful, and it’s just the start.
If you want to chat about how we can help today, get in touch on 0345 072 9529 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org