According to the strategy consulting firm Gartner, among the trends of the next decade will be the “digital twin“. A digital twin is a virtual, smart replica of products, processes, people, places, infrastructure, systems and devices.
In today’s society, it is used to develop “predictive models” in real time, thanks to which improvements can be experienced without the physical product. The fields of application, after all, are endless and in Industry 4.0 a digital twin can really make a difference.
Table of contents
Digital twin: meaning and features
A digital twin is, indeed, a digital representation of an object, a service, a system or part of it; it is processed using machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), the combination of which makes it possible to simulate information about the asset, future performance and reactions under certain conditions.
A digital twin is an highly complex virtual model of a car, a plane, a bridge, a building, etc. and it’is based on the idea that a set of bits can somehow replace a physical entity.
The term digital twin was first used by the researcher Michael Grieves in 2001 during a Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) course at the University of Michigan. Today, Grieves works as Chief Scientist for Advanced Manufacturing at the Florida Institute of Technology; according to him, a digital twin was the virtual equivalent of a physical product.
Grieves also spoke of a Mirrored Spaces Model, understood as a dynamic representation of reality where the real and virtual dimensions are connected. In fact, according to the researcher, a necessary condition for the existence of a digital twin is the fact that there are:
A virtual 3D model, for example, allows engineers to simulate and validate the feasibility of a project or to investigate conflicts and critical issues more quickly and economically. Thanks to digital twins, it is possible to test and understand how the products one wants to realise will behave, without the encumbrance of expensive physical models.
How the term digital twin spread
In subsequent publications, the Mirrored Spaces Model is referred to as the Information Mirroring Model, but it was not until 2011 with the essay Virtually Perfect: Driving Innovative and Lean Products through Product Lifecycle Management that Grieves first spoke of digital twin to the general public. The proposed definition is: «A set of virtual information constructs that completely describe a potential or real physical artefact, from the micro atomic level to the macro geometric level».
Paraphrasing the words of Grieves himself, spoken at a conference in 2002 at which a Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) centre was proposed, for the first time in the history of mankind a virtual space that existed only in people’s minds with the digital twin comes to life in the SSDs and hard-drives of computers.
How design changes thanks to the digital twin
With the concept of digital twins, the need to build a physical 3D model or prototype, as used to be done in the past, is dispensed with (at least initially). Digital twins, indeed, allow a better understanding of the system itself and its behaviour.
In other words, a digital twin is an invaluable source of information that makes it possible to predict what the product will be like and, therefore, what improvements, if any, need to be made.
The Industry 4.0 paradigm
If we look at the Industry 4.0 paradigm, which can be translated into an horizon of automation, information, connection and programming, the digital twin fits in perfectly. It is in fact made possible by a mix of technologies (cloud computing, Internet of Things, machine learning, artificial intelligence, etc.) that introduce new development concepts under the banner of digital disruption.
Industry 4.0 corresponds to the transition from one production system to another, called “bimodal” because it is governed by two ecosystems: one physical, real, concrete and tangible and the other digital, intangible, virtual.
The digital twin, therefore, is a child of its time and as such also invests Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), which emerge from it distorted and, in some cases, improved thanks to machine learning models of natural language and virtual copies of the neural maps of animals or, even, people.
Digital twin and ethical implications
Gartner states that already today almost all companies (around 48%) use digital twins. Well, some companies are already working on plans to create digital twins of people that would allow, in the near future, their minds to be uploaded onto the web, thus making them immortal.
Of course, all this would obviously have ethical implications and, at that point, even the concept of death itself would be questioned. However, at the moment, the best application of the digital twin concerns the manufacturing sector, which benefits from it in terms of process improvement.
The digital twin “enables” predictive maintenance, avoiding production stops, excessive energy consumption and substandard performance. Scaling models is no easy task and, certainly, creating virtual models of entire factories takes time and dedicated resources. At the same time, however, the digital twin and Industry 4.0 more generally represent the challenge of the future.
Digital twin in company
The digital twin model is already adopted in different sectors: from logistics to health care to retail, etc.
Tesla is one of the companies in the automotive industry that has invested the most in the digital twin to improve its processes.
In fact, the US company makes a digital twin of every car it produces. The sensors in the real car transmit data to its digital counterpart, which is analysed by sophisticated algorithms that can offer information on vehicle performance and recommendations on how to improve it.
Oil & Gas
Within the Oil & Gas sector, Saras Ricerche e Tecnologie (SARTEC) develops solutions to improve process and performance efficiency. Specifically, the project aims to create a digital twin of the Sarroch refinery‘s pump fleet. Thanks to a large number of IoT sensors, the company will be able to enable “predictive maintenance“.
In retail, the digital twin helps retailers optimise stock, select materials, inventory goods and manage logistics flows. All this, combined with customer purchasing data, can help to make predictions about consumer behaviour and thus to devise optimal sales strategies.
Needless to say, one of the goals of Meta, the holding company that owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, is to create avatars, i.e. digital copies of human beings, to be used in recreational (and other) settings. In this regard, at Meta Connect 2022, Zuckerberg’s multinational company unveiled the future of the metaverse: Codec Avatar, a technology capable of reproducing people as faithfully as possible in the form of 3D avatars, aka digital twins.
In the world of sport, a digital twin can help teams, such as Formula 1 teams, to develop winning tactics and strategies for use on the track. Solving age-old problems, such as those affecting a car’s hydraulic system, can sometimes make all the difference.
Digital twin in Italy
According to the Capgemini Research Institute report Digital Twins: Adding Intelligence to the Real World, most Italian companies use digital twins in their environmental sustainability programmes. However, more than 60% say they will use digital twins to improve their performance in general.
Thanks to their ability to recreate real life situations in virtual environments, digital twins help SMEs to manage resources more efficiently, reduce CO2 emissions and increase employee safety. According to the report, companies that are already using a digital twin have experienced an average improvement in performance.
GeminiPort: a local digital twin project
Following the example of the Port Lab 4.0 – Digital Twin project of the Port of Genoa, the partnership formed by the companies HT Apps and NetSense proposed GeminiPort, a sophisticated simulation platform for port and logistics processes, which integrates different technologies such as blockchain and IoT, for the Port of Catania.
GeminiPort aims to revolutionise technologies for the testing, development and management of port processes, improving the efficiency and safety of activities, through new operational procedures such as:
The system, still under development, will be offered in the form of Digital-Twin-as-a-Service (DTaaS), producing results on demand and offering developers a higher level of abstraction than the canonical framework.
HT Apps, specifically, will be responsible for creating an interface that can be used both on desktop and mobile devices and that can provide port authorities with the information they need to improve productivity; for example, it will allow them to understand where vehicles are allocated, identify the best routes and manage the entry and exit of goods.
Trust in PMF Research
If you are looking an expert consultants in the fields of augmented reality and virtual reality, AI, IoT, blockchain and big data, who can guide you towards innovative solutions and help you develop and implement a digital twin, rely on PMF Research and HT Apps, two well-known companies in the JO Group cluster. Contact us compiling the form below or via LinkedIn, we are waiting for you.