What Is Digital Twin Technology?

Written by: Colin McMahon

Read Time: 3 min

Editor's note: This blog was updated in August 2022 to reflect our latest thinking around digital twin. 

When looking to understand exactly what a digital twin is, the name can be misleading. Think of regular twins: two people who look alike, right? That, however, is where the similarities end. Real-life twins may share genetic material and a few common experiences but throughout life they will be molded by diverse events and lifestyles. If one twin shaves their head, for instance, while the other looks to set a record for longest hair, then that is one of many differences that will set these two twins apart.

By contrast, a digital twin cannot be different from its physical counterpart – by definition. If you have a digital twin that does not 100% accurately mirror and measure what is going on in physical reality, then unfortunately you have nothing more than a simulation. It may be a very impressive simulation, but it is not a digital twin.

What is a digital twin?

Imagine a world where you could have access to your product after it’s left the factory floor and is in your customers’ hands. You’d have unique view into the ways your customers are using your product – and you’d be able to develop a complete picture of the product’s current and past states.

That’s digital twin technology. and it doesn’t end at products. A digital twin is a virtual representation of a product, process, person, or even place, that exactly reflects and measures its physical counterpart.

That said, a digital twin is more than just the digital copy itself. This pairing of the digital and physical worlds allows analysis of data and monitoring of systems to head off problems before they even occur.

By implementing a digital twin, you can enable a unified simulation of the product, facilitating product improvements and enabling virtual prototyping of future products.

How does digital twin technology work in practice?

With the future already here and digital twins being deployed in companies around the world, the question becomes: How does it work in practice?

At PTC, one way we’re helping manufacturers across industries leverage digital twin to understand how their customers are using their products, helping to improve the design and performance of those products.

Let’s examine this use case from Monash University. Like many advanced learning centers, this Australian-based university features an engineering program for its students. Students who are increasingly expected to hit the ground running, as the shortage of skilled labor remains a real and global challenge.

To help prepare students as best they could, Monash University came up with a novel approach: Why use simulation when you can use (a virtual representation of) the real thing. Digital twins were employed to give students an honest look into exactly the reality they would be working with.

The benefits of working with digital twin don’t end in education. Once in the field, many companies augment their service technicians with augmented reality (AR) displays – primarily so they can see and operate along the digital twin of the machine they’ve been tasked with repairing. By placing this knowledge literally in front of their eyes, these technicians can be expected to successfully service hardware they’ve never even seen before. This is optimization that was not possible without digital twin feeding accurate, current data to the operator.

The end result?

By leveraging PTC technology, Monash University and many other organizations can gather real-time data and relay it to its appropriate audience back to their customers in a meaningful way.

Final thoughts 

Enterprises are increasingly harnessing the power of the colliding digital and physical worlds to unlock business value and outperform the competition. Companies may be in different stages of maturity with digital twin, but one thing is clear: The pressure is on.

Digital twins aren’t just in the field today, they are increasingly sophisticated, working with the larger digital thread to empower the physical world in ways that before were not possible.

State of Digital Twin

Learn how industrial companies are leveraging digital twin across engineering, manufacturing, and service. Read Now
Tags: Augmented Reality Industrial Internet of Things Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Automotive Digital Transformation Digital Twin CAD

About the Author

Colin McMahon

Colin McMahon is a senior market research analyst working with PTC’s Corporate Marketing team, helping to provide actionable insights, challenging perspectives, and thought leadership on trends, technologies, and markets. Colin has been working professionally as a research analyst for many years, and he enjoys examining and evaluating just how large the overall impact of digital transformation technologies will be. He has a passion for augmented reality and virtual reality initiatives and believes that understanding the connected ecosystem of people and technology is key to a company fully realizing its potential in the 21st century.