The concept of a digital twin may conjure thoughts of futuristic movies like The Minority Report. But the future is here and digital twins are already being deployed in companies around the world, as the physical and digital worlds collide.
On the latest episode podcast of The Connected Engineer podcast, Chris Rommel, Executive VP of IoT and Embedded Technology at VDC Research, offers a glimpse into how digital twin technology is impacting product development, manufacturing, and service.
Working at a market intelligence and consulting firm, Rommel spends a lot of time thinking about the possibilities of implementing a digital twin as he works with companies that are starting to or have already begun their digital twin journey. In this episode, he shares what he is seeing and what it takes to succeed with digital twins.
What is a digital twin?
VDC Research defines a digital twin as a virtual representation or digital copy of a real product or system that can be used to simulate what is happening to the physical product or system in an enterprise setting. By implementing a digital twin, you can join design data from multiple engineering domains to enable a unified simulation of the product.
Rommel encourages listeners to think beyond the product and realize that a digital twin can represent the entire factory environment where a product might be used or manufactured. In fact, every asset in a factory could potentially have a digital twin.
How are companies using digital twins?
As Rommel explains, there is no single way to implement a digital twin; many of the companies that he works with are at different levels of maturity with their implementations. That said, Rommel sees organizations making significant progress using the digital twin to facilitate product improvements, enable virtual prototyping of future products, and to inform Augmented Reality (AR) for interactions with the product. Field service, in particular, is already benefiting from the use of digital twin in remote monitoring and management.
In fact, Rommel sees AR and virtual reality as the next step in the evolution of digital twins as they provide a new medium of engagement. Organizations can achieve more fully contextualized and situationally aware engagement with the digital twin of a product if the right underlying model is in place.
However, Rommel cautions that for AR to be effective, organizations should rely upon standards-based technology, such as the SysML standard and Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE).
How does the digital thread relate to the digital twin concept?
Without a digital thread, a digital twin would only be a snapshot of a product or system at a particular point in time of its lifecycle. A digital thread connects these snapshots of the product or system throughout its entire lifecycle to give the complete digital twin.
VDC Research breaks the digital thread into two phases: 1) a development-side digital thread that shows how the different components and engineering disciplines work together, and 2) a deploy-side digital thread, which captures the evolution of the product once it’s released.
What are the precursors to digital twin success?
Before making any technology investments, VDC Research encourages organizations to determine what near-term benefits they hope to achieve with the implementation of a digital twin, as well as what foundational technologies they need to have in place.
To that end, Rommel calls product lifecycle management (PLM) a foundational element for success. Companies exploring digital twin technology are the ones that recognize the value of more holistic lifecycle management and a more rigorous and process-based approach to design, engineering, manufacturing, and management of products. PLM is the glue that holds it all together.
Tune in to The Connected Engineer for more insight into what it takes to capitalize on digital twin technology, what approaches are working best for both small and large organizations, and the key to optimizing digital twin ROI.