From Myth to Manifest – Why Digital Twins and Why Now?

Written By: Jonathan Lang
  • 10/4/2018

When you think of the concept of a digital twin, the first thing that may come to mind is something like the movie Transcendence, where Johnny Depp’s character Dr. Will Caster develops an AI so powerful he transfers his consciousness to it after his death, enabling eternal consciousness and unlimited knowledge.

While the term has traditionally been loaded with buzzy, futuristic, and often esoteric concepts with little practical support, this perception is rapidly changing as enterprises realize the potential for digital twin technology use cases that can reshape business processes.

What Is a Digital Twin and What Business Problems Does It Address?

A digital twin is a virtual representation of a physical product, asset, process, or operations used to understand and predict the physical counterpart's performance characteristics by leveraging real-time sensor and/or business system data related to the product or environment.

A digital twin is a virtual representation of a physical product

Simply put, a digital twin is a model used to contextualize, generate, and communicate actionable insights from the abundance of physical-world data being created by technology. These digital world ‘twins’ of the physical world are poised to solve some of the largest pain points companies are experiencing through their digital transformations.

Digital Twin Initiatives Connect Disparate Silos of Information and Insight

One of the most common challenges I’ve seen enterprises facing as they grapple with digital transformation initiatives  is siloed behavior and the rise of the business technology buyer. These business buyers are keen to implement the greatest new ‘hack’ technology fast, and, while they may experience early value, they severely limit their enterprises by deploying them in a silo.

Digital twin software centralizes insights from different technology sources like sensor data from disparate assets, simulation and process optimization tools, and captured through a variety of business systems such as CRM or MES. When you centralize this data around a model of a product, asset, or business process, the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts and new opportunities are unlocked.

Digital Twin Deployments Simplify Decision Making

Go ask your front-line workers, whether desk engineers or field technicians, why they are cautious about new technologies? The answer is that nobody wants to learn yet another tool, or rifle through countless software systems looking for a piece of information. The role of technology is to empower humans, not distract them.

Digital twin deployments

When you deliver all of the relevant context to your workers within a central, role-based model, their productivity will flourish. When you hear about delivering the right information at the right time and in the right way, digital twin frameworks are one means to this elusive end.

Digital Twin Deployments Are at the Core of Sustainable Digital Transformation

Whether it’s establishing new usage-based business models, enabling predictive analytics and operational intelligence for production assets, or modernizing your worker processes with new forms of digital instruction and dashboards, companies are spending a preposterous amount of money on technology deployments.

It’s no wonder systems integration services are expected to grow by double digits through 2025. Outsourcing is not a sustainable approach to digital transformation, and leveraging simplified and unified tools and frameworks characteristic of digital twin initiatives is one of the best ways to keep your rapidly evolving technology strategy in-check and in-house.

Why Is the Time Right to Develop Your Digital Twin Strategy?

A convergence of macro-economic trends and the emergence of new enabling technologies make now the ideal time to build digital twin strategies into the fabric of your digital transformation to accelerate your time to value. Addressed together under a cohesive digital twin strategy, you can gain an operational and a strategic advantage and outperform the competition.

Customer and Worker-Centricity and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

Every company on the planet is figuring out how to get closer to their customers, workers, and assets to understand pain points and adapt their offerings to drive heightened experience and value. IIoT platforms and technologies are already capturing new insights about the physical world, and digital twin tools accelerate the time to value and value achieved through IIoT technology by ensuring this data is centralized, contextualized, and available to all who can benefit from it.

The Predictive Enterprise and Advanced Simulation

Competitive advantage in the modern business landscape is gained by predicting and adapting to change before it happens – increasingly finding itself at the forefront of transformation. With the new capabilities available through advanced simulation, FMEA analysis, machine learning, and other forms of predictive analytics, digital twin architecture can be a unifying force in your increasingly sprawling and siloed analytics strategies, helping you to grab the reigns before it’s too late.

Continuous Process Improvement and Augmented Reality (AR)

Look to the future – augmented reality is being moved from pilot to production at a staggering rate. With the need for continuous process improvement, increasingly complex environments and products, and the desire to empower humans, AR is quickly becoming the next generation user interface. AR requires new ways of developing 3D content to be effective, and digital twins unifying real-time and business system data and analysis to 3D models, contextualizing it for workers and customers in-situ is the ideal content format without requiring you to re-develop and custom code all of your content from scratch.

There is no doubt that the mysticism surrounding digital twins is rooted in their nearly unlimited potential. To date, futurists across industries have explored the concept of the digital twin in philosophical and conceptual terms, leading to cognitive dissonance for enterprises who need to create value now. However, if you take examine the key challenges and technologies enterprises are facing today, it becomes clear that digital twin strategies and deployments are now possible and represent the most compelling way to fit those puzzle pieces together and complete the vision promised by digital transformation.

  • Augmented Reality
  • CAD
  • Industrial Connectivity
  • Industrial Internet of Things
  • Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)
  • Automotive
  • Digital Transformation
  • Digital Twin

About the Author

Jonathan Lang

Jonathan Lang is Principal Analyst for PTC’s Thought Leadership group. He is an accomplished technology market analyst, providing advisory to the full ecosystem - investors, enterprises, and vendors - on the impact of emerging technologies and digital transformation. Jonathan enjoys the outdoors and spends his weekends backpacking, rock climbing, and gardening.