Digital Twins Applications and Use Cases

17 June 2020

The concept of digital twins has been around since the early 2000s. But, even today, very few people, outside those already working on digital twin projects, understand how it works.

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Thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), however, the concept is increasingly gaining popularity, penetrating new fields, and finding applications in multiple industries. From retail to manufacturing, companies are leveraging the technology to accelerate product development, optimize performance, and enable predictive maintenance.

According to one recent Deloitte report;

  1. The global market for the technology is set to grow by up to 38% CAGR, reaching $16 billion in 2023
  2. Beyond the industrial sector, which has the most digital twin applications, piloting is ongoing in healthcare, smart city, aerospace, and automotive, among other industries.
  3. Several giant tech vendors, including IBM, SAP, and Oracle, have launched a digital twin offering within the last three years.  

Considering these developments, maybe it’s time to talk about this new concept named Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends in 2017.

What are Digital Twins?

Digital twins (singular digital twin) are digital representations of physical objects or systems. The term was first coined by Michael Grieves of the University of Michigan in 2002.

One of the best examples of digital twins at work is found at NASA. According to one NASA spokesperson, the biggest question at the agency has always been – how do you repair a system when you’re not within physical proximity to the object?

It seems impossible. Yet, it’s what NASA may need to do from time to time after they launch systems into space. Once these systems are in space, you can’t see or physically monitor them. When disaster struck Apollo, for example, they had to rely on mirrored systems still on earth to determine how to rescue the team on board.

The digital twins technology has, however, made it possible for the agency to design and test replicas of the equipment they send to space in a virtual environment to better deal with situations such as the Apollo disaster in the future.

“We can create, test, and build the equipment in a virtual environment,” says NASA’s leading manufacturing expert John Vickers. “It means, therefore, that we can now wait until we’re at a point where the equipment performs to our requirements before we physically manufacture it.

How Does It Work?

The digital twin is born in a data-science or applied mathematics laboratory. Specialists in either of these fields research the physics underlying the working of an existing physical object and use the data to develop a mathematical model that simulates the real-world object in a digital space.

One key factor during the design process is the ability to take instructions. A digital twin gets instructions from sensors designed to observe the physical twin in the real world. The digital twin is expected to take in the instructions and simulate the real-world counterpart, to provide insight into the performance and potential challenges of operating the object in the real world.  

Alternatively, a digital twin can be designed based on a prototype of its real-world counterpart. In this approach, the aim is usually to gain feedback as the digital twin is refined. Or, the twin could itself serve as a prototype to guide the building of the physical version.  

What are the Advantages of Digital Twins

There are several advantages of adopting the digital twin approach, whether in manufacturing, retail, space exploration, logistics, etc.

  • Accelerates innovative product design

Designers can use realistic digital twins to quickly and inexpensively prototype new ideas. The twins can also be instrumental in simulating a variety of what-if scenarios, involving product testing, system interactions, and even customer experience.

  • Design more efficient processes 

Digital twins can be used to model complex processes that allow enterprises to identify inefficiencies and challenges in real-world objects and address them. This is something that was either impossible or very expensive in the past.

  • Enabling predictive maintenance

Predictive maintenance involves catching imminent breakdowns before they occur and fixing them to avoid downtime and scheduled but unnecessary maintenance procedures. Digital twins, alongside other technologies, make this form of maintenance possible

  • Optimizing day-to-day performance 

Through digital twins, enterprises can continuously capture vital operational metrics, allowing them to monitor system performance actively and optimize processes in real-time. For example, in hospitals, digital twins can help identify busiest hours and simulate solutions to ease congestion.

Real-World Use Cases and Applications

Although still at its infancy stages, digital twins already boast several real-world applications in many fields. Some of the standout applications include;

  • Airservices Australia 

Led by Mick Snell, Airservices Australia is using the digital twins technology to find new ways to resolve current air traffic issues. For instance, the agency is wondering whether the technology can help enhance flight routes, reduce delays, and optimize takeoff times. Digital twins projects are also serving as proving grounds for redefining the agency’s traditional ways of working.

  • Digital twins at Bridgestone 

For a few years now, Bridgestone has utilized digital twin simulations augmented by sensor data to improve the life and performance of its tires. However, Jerome Boulet, the Digital Strategy Director at the tire maker, says it’s just the beginning. The company intends to use digital twins to deliver insight right across its supply chain.

  • Takeda Pharmaceuticals 

The pharmaceutical industry is one of the most tightly regulated, which isn’t necessarily good for drugmakers. It significantly delays the process of getting drugs to market. So, Takeda pharmaceuticals is making a few tweaks to hasten the process. They’re bringing in digital twin solutions to pacify processes such as testing.  

  • City planning in Singapore 

Imagine all the variables that go into planning a city! It involves so much data and processes. When you consider that the planning has to happen while people continue to use those same spaces, the job becomes even burdensome. City planners in Singapore are turning to digital twins to inform decision-making as it allows them to test solutions before applying them in real life.

 NIX Solutions Can Help

Nix Solutions is a global leader in emerging business tech solutions. We design, develop, and even source technologies to help enterprises improve efficiency, boost growth and increase profitability. Contact us today to learn how digital twins can benefit your bottom-line.