What is a Digital Twin and What are Digital Twins Used for?


The COVID-19 pandemic has forced companies to change their long-term direction and accelerate their initiatives toward digitizing their operations and processes. Workplace strategy, for one, has to adapt to the significant shift towards prioritizing health measures and social distancing to comply with government regulations and ensure employee safety. 

Knowing that the ongoing crisis can still worsen and the quarantine period can be prolonged, there has been a growing concern that businesses could shut down again at any given moment. It also means employees would have to work remotely in a snap. On the flip side, there is also fear and hesitation surrounding the return to physical offices, even if it’s a necessary step for the organization to resume productivity and operations.

All of these issues make it imperative for companies to utilize technological advancements, such digital twins. Digital twin technology could gather the insights needed to solve the problems we face today. Unfortunately, we know little about this complex concept, and numerous misconceptions surround the topic.

ThoughtWireOpens in a new tab. sales director Kyle TookeOpens in a new tab. believes in the advantages of using digital twins in every industry. His experience includes being an account executive, leading sales teams, and contributing enterprise software to companies in the entertainment, insurance, and real estate industries.

With this broad range of work experience, Kyle realized the advantage digital twins could bring, especially in these pressing times. As a thought leader in digital twin technology, he helps his clients understand and maximize the value of this emerging innovation. 

Flexibility in Remote Work

Companies and individuals alike have different experiences and various ways to adapt to the changes brought about by the pandemic.

First, the more technologically inclined a company is, the more agile it is overall. Kyle’s personal experience with ThoughtWire illustrates that having collaborative systems already in place, such as file-sharing applications or utilizing communication platforms like Slack, have immense benefits in transitioning to a work-from-home environment. 

Furthermore, it didn’t hurt that their organization only had 60 employees compared to large companies that have about 20,000 employees on average. Kyle says companies have recently hosted webinars discussing if they will have workers return to their offices. It shows that their priority isn’t to transition to remote work permanently but to survive until such time that things return to normal.

Although there are people like him who have acclimated to this setting and thrive in webcam conversations, the majority will still struggle to get used to working remotely. Thus, Kyle believes that “organizations are going to have to take a flexible approach and give the option” to their workers.

With organizations clamoring to return to the workplace, digital twins may offer a solution to ensure a safe working environment. There are many advantages to digital twin technology. First, however, you have to know what it is, what it is not, and the different types of digital twins and their specific purposes.

What a Digital Twin Is & What It’s Not

There are many misconceptions when it comes to digital twin technology. First, let us go over what it is not. A digital twin is not:

• a 3D visualization,

• a building information modeling (BIM) replica,

• a dashboarding analytics platform,

• a picture or schematic, or

• a blueprint.

All of these are not digital twins because they do not capture the value that a digital twin provides. Although they are indeed copies from a physical source, these are static models and thus cannot aid in the operational process of the physical thing they replicate, especially beyond the initial stages. 

For example, a digital representation of a BIM is not a digital twin. Even if the representation is accurate, BIM lacks the real-time aspect of digital twins and only concerns functionality and other static characteristics. Furthermore, a BIM replica cannot provide insights beyond the construction process of a building and into its occupancy stages. A defining characteristic of a digital twin is that it has to have data output throughout the entire life cycle of an asset or infrastructure.

What then is a digital twin? A digital twin is “a virtual representation of both the elements and the dynamics of how an Internet of Things (IoT) device responds throughout its lifecycle.”

It’s important to remember that it is a real-time data model, which entails that it has to include information that could enable learning, analysis, and re-calibration of decision-making. It means companies would be able to extract value from the simulations that a digital twin can perform. Moreover, digital twins need to be able to integrate operationally, and a key factor is that it has to be dynamic. 

The 4 Types of Digital Twins

Digital twin technology comes in different forms, each depending on a hierarchy of value of information and how much data stores would come in. Furthermore, the type of digital twin technology utilized depends on the sophistication of the company.

1. Discrete Digital Twin

Historically, digital twins originated from what we call discrete digital twins, which are digital representations of any conceivable physical asset, such as engines, oil rigs, or infrastructures. Nonetheless, Kyle describes discrete digital twins as very limited in terms of the value they provide to operational information due to the lack of context.

2. Composite Digital Twin

Information from the Internet of Things (IoT) sensors come into play here. In essence, composite digital twins comprise all the physical assets of a larger entity and are composed of several discrete digital twins. These represent a higher-level data store, and they concern more operational processes. Examples are assets mapped on the floor plates and data sensors in lighting, temperature, or transportation.

3. Process Digital Twin

These are more complex digital twins because they now require reasoning engines such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.

4. Organization Digital Twin

ThoughtWire is involved here. It concerns optimizing business outcomes and higher-order priorities. Kyle says it has three pillars:

• Data from physical assets

• Data from people

• Data from processes

Having an organizational digital twin is highly beneficial but requires a data model that lives and updates real-time.

As mentioned before, digital twins have to be dynamic and usable in terms of operations and the life cycle of a physical asset. Digital twin technology demands many types of information, from context to rule engines, to achieve the myriad of possible outcomes for an organization.

Practical Use of Digital Twins

In the real estate industry, utilizing digital twins would allow the fine-tuning of buildings and assets and make decision points on behalf of facility managers.

It could also help corporations who want to have a global ecosystem for their portfolio by keeping their buildings the same in different geographic locations. In this increasingly globalized world, the impossible scenario of standardizing these infrastructures to achieve a common end-user experience for both employees and clients would be possible through the use of digital twins. 

The use of digital twins is also prevalent in industries that don’t have physical access to their equipment, such as aeronautics and space transportation. For example, NASA uses digital twins to analyze its tools, which they obviously cannot physically access from space.

Sectors that need repeated iterations and testing would benefit immensely from digital twin technology. Formula 1 racingOpens in a new tab. relies on simulations from digital twins to make necessary adjustments to boost performance and manage time. Wind farms also experience a massive improvement in output due to digital twin technology. The testing process removes uncertain variables, consequently saving millions of money and avoiding asset wastage.

Organizational digital twins are of great help to any project. Having reasoning engines will allow teams to weigh priorities and triage which points are most critical on a specific project in real time. They make companies efficient by saving on unnecessary expenses and optimizing daily processes.

From all the examples, we can see that digital twins could potentially change the way various industries operate. Breakthroughs in business, science,  technology, and even sports are all possible with the help of digital twins.

The COVID-19 Crisis as a Catalyst

Kyle says executives now pay attention to his past thoughts and conversations on digital twins knowing that there are numerous urgent issues into which digital twins could give insights. 

Indeed, the concept of digital twins seems even more appealing now with the rise of new workplace circumstances. The ongoing pandemic has amplified the urgency for it, considering that major renovations are required to ensure a safe environment for workers. Issues like air quality and office occupancy are relevant again because of COVID-19.

People are now expanding their vision to just what digital twins could achieve in the long term, with the current health and economic crisis as the primary catalyst. Kyle says it is a matter of using digital twins to your advantage and letting the stakeholders know how the insights you have gathered can improve health situations through better air quality or decreasing population density.

Digital twin technology may sound like science fiction, but it is present now in various sectors. It is a proven concept. All we need to do is to learn more about it and understand its applications now that an ongoing pandemic has promoted its marketability.

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