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What is a Digital Twin?

Digital twins can be defined as virtual replicas of physical objects that engineers can use to design and run simulations before actual physical objects are built and deployed into the physical world. The digitized twin would enable us to foresee its behavior and performance metrics as we design it. This is the pre-manufacture advantage. Digital twins can also be used to manage a vast number of physical devices that already exist in the real world, as they are exact imitations of those objects that reside in the virtual world. Not only that, they can live on long after the death of the corresponding physical object giving rise to an immortality of anything digitized. This might remind us of science fiction movies becoming a reality.

As more complex “things” or electronic devices become connected to the internet with the ability to produce insightful data, having a digital equivalent empowers engineers and data scientists with the ability to plan and optimize real-world deployments for peak efficiency and create several what-if scenarios. By now we understand that a digital twin is nothing but a digital representation of a physical object or system. While the term digital twin might sound very futuristic and science fictional, they have been around for a long time. What is an example of a digital twin? Remember the electronic attendance system at your workplace or college? When you punch in you are simply leaving a virtual stamp of your physical presence in a said confined area or location. The time you punch-in is captured as the exact time you are present in the defined vicinity. This is a basic example of only one aspect of your “digital twin”. Below is a timeline of evolution of the concept of digital twin.

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The concept and model of the Digital Twin was officially put forward in 2002 by Dr. Michael Grieves as the conceptual model underlying Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). The concept has been practiced since the 1960s by NASA. They used basic twinning ideas for space programming at that time. They did this by creating physically duplicated systems at ground level to match the systems in space. An example is when NASA developed a digital twin to assess and simulate conditions on board Apollo 13. The efforts were made keeping in mind only a particular mission and because of that, this concept didn’t gain recognition until 2002 after Dr. Grieves presented it with all the elements including real space, virtual space and the spreading of data and information flow between real and virtual space. The concept of integrating the digital and physical parts as one entity has remained the same since its emergence. 

Nowadays, the retail industry is known to create digital twins of users with all their preferences saved and this is used for targeted marketing. This is the reason why you see certain advertisements on social media whereas your friend might be seeing a totally different set of advertisements more suitable to his tastes and preferences. Therefore it is safe to conclude that the technology behind digital twins has expanded to include large items such as buildings, factories and even cities, and some have said people and processes can have digital twins, expanding the concept even further.

How does a Digital Twin work?

A Digital Twin consists of three distinct parts: The physical part, the digital part and the connection between the two. The ‘connection’ here refers to the data that flows from physical products to the digital/virtual product and information that is being available from the digital environment to the physical environment. A digital twin is generally built by experts in data science and applied mathematics. These developers research into the physics that govern the physical object or system being mimicked and use that data to develop a mathematical model that simulates the real-world original in a digital space. 

The twin is engineered so that it can receive input from various sensors gathering data from a real-world counterpart. The twin then simulates the physical object in real time, in the process offering insights into performance and potential problems. The twin could also be designed based on a prototype of its physical counterpart, in which case the twin can provide feedback as the product is refined. A twin could even serve as a prototype itself before any physical version is built. Therefore a digital twin can be as complicated or as simple as you like, and the amount of data you use to build and update it will determine how precisely you’re simulating a physical object.

It might be insightful to create a digital twin of your own car by using a database tutorial available online. You can visit BigchainDB’s tutorial on how to create a digital twin of your car to get started on a DIY Digital Twin project! 

What are some cool use cases of digital twins?

Objects such as aircraft engines, trains, offshore platforms and turbines can be designed and tested digitally before being physically produced. These digital twins could also be used to help with maintenance operations. For example, technicians could use a digital twin to test that a proposed fix for a piece of equipment works before applying the fix to the physical twin.

Digital-twin business applications are found in a number of sectors:

Manufacturing: This concept is revolutionizing the way products are designed and manufactured. It has eased the maintenance process and saves a lot of time and money.

Automobile: It helps in visualizing the behavioural and operational data of the vehicle performance and makes sure the customer gets the best-personalized service.

Healthcare: Digital twins and IoT combine to give the best assistance to patient monitoring and personalized healthcare. 

Retail: A virtual model of the product required by a customer, proper store planning and security are contributions of this concept in the retail sector. 

Smart Cities: Planning a smart city with thousands of residents, buildings, roads, and infrastructure is not possible manually. Digital twin makes this process easier by helping the government and engineers with better insights. Digital twin concept is gaining popularity, and even NASA uses digital twins for advanced vehicles and aircraft development. 

Author

Suman Satish

References

  1. https://www.networkworld.com/article/3253891/
  2. https://www.rtinsights.com/a-conversation-with-digital-twin-consortium-founding-member-ansys/
  3. https://www.geeksforgeeks.org/introduction-to-digital-twin/

Further study

  1. https://www.coursera.org/learn/mastering-digital-twins
  2. https://www.udemy.com/course/digital-twin-a-comprehensive-overview/
  3. https://www.networkworld.com/article/3253891/

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