Gartner, a tech industry advisory company, recently released its "top 10 strategic technology trends for 2018". Among them were digital twins, a repeat trend also included in 2017's forecast, which Gartner advises will become an increasingly important part of the industrial IoT. The company predicts that 50% of large industrial companies will use digital twins by 2021.
What is a digital twin and why will it be more important in the year to come?
What Is a Digital Twin?
In the most basic sense, a digital twin is the digital version of a physically existing object. For engineers or technicians that work with things like CAD modeling, this is already a very familiar concept. Using these models, tests can be conducted to gather information on behavior.
What makes a digital twin slightly different from just a regular CAD simulation is that the physical twin exists, perhaps as part of an IoT network, where it gathers physical data in real time, feeds it back to the simulation, which then uses that data to improve its simulation.
Having a digital twin of a physical object also provides opportunities for monitoring, troubleshooting, or data acquisition for better iterative designing. More accurate tests can also be conducted without the cost of having to build a physical replica—something that is especially valuable in industries where production is costly (aerospace, for example).
Digital Twin Real-World Applications
Siemens is utilizing the concept of digital twins in one of its recent gas turbines with over 500 sensors are installed. The sensors provide detailed information on temperature, pressure, and motion. Engineers are then able to visualize the turbine in a virtual reality environment, where they can inspect the turbine and run tests based on its twin’s provided data. Siemens engineers can even immerse themselves in the digital twin by wearing VR goggles.
A turbine being visualized in a virtual reality enivornment. Image courtesy of Siemens.
This has enabled virtual and remote maintenance, as well as allowing team members who are all remote from one another and the turbine in question, to work together on the digital twin.
There are three companies that currently work with designing digital twins for smart cities: GE Digital, Toshiba IoT, and Dassault Systèmes. The latter, Dassault Systèmes, has partnered with Singapore to create a digital twin of the city. Similar to how Google street view works, the digital twin of Singapore allows users to traverse the city from an aerial point of view.
Information on the dimensions, materials, and engineering specs of buildings and infrastructure can be made available, as well as information rental rates. It is hoped that the digital twin of a city like Singapore can afford policymakers and designers better insight for everything from economic policies, safety, efficiency, and environmental concerns.
GE is making use of digital twins in its wind farm systems. Each wind farm turbine is fully equipped with sensors and software that connects online to provide real-time data. This data is then used to visualize a fleet of wind turbines, where information from efficiency to required maintenance is provided. This allows operators insight to make decisions about future repairs and design choices.
GE reports that the digital twinning of their wind turbines has increased annual energy productions by 16% for their customers.
Sensors connected to the industrial Internet of Things are capable of collecting more data than ever. Feeding that information into digital models of physical devices allows in-depth analysis, experimentation, and optimization—without disturbing the physical environment. This allows iterative design improvements to take place quickly and at minimal cost.
Beyond the industrial IoT, how will we see digital twinning spread in 2018? Where do you see the most potential? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Featured image courtesy of Siemens.