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Introduction to Digital Twins

A digital twin is a virtual model designed to accurately reflect a physical object. The object being studied — for example, a wind turbine — is outfitted with various sensors related to vital areas of functionality. These sensors produce data about different aspects of the physical object’s performance, such as energy output, temperature, weather conditions and more. This data is then relayed to a processing system and applied to the digital copy.

Types of digital twins

There are various types of digital twins depending on the level of product magnification. The biggest difference between these twins is the area of application. It is common to have different types of digital twins co-exist within a system or process. Let’s go through the types of digital twins to learn the differences and how they are applied.

1. Component twins/Parts twins

Component twins are the basic unit of digital twin, the smallest example of a functioning component. Parts twins are roughly the same thing, but pertain to components of slightly less importance.

2. Asset twins

When two or more components work together, they form what is known as an asset. Asset twins let you study the interaction of those components, creating a wealth of performance data that can be processed and then turned into actionable insights.

3. System or Unit twins

The next level of magnification involves system or unit twins, which enable you to see how different assets come together to form an entire functioning system. System twins provide visibility regarding the interaction of assets, and may suggest performance enhancements.

4. Process twins

Process twins, the macro level of magnification, reveal how systems work together to create an entire production facility. Are those systems all synchronized to operate at peak efficiency, or will delays in one system affect others? Process twins can help determine the precise timing schemes that ultimately influence overall effectiveness.

Applications of Digital Twins

Digital twins are already extensively used in the following applications:

1. Power-generation equipment

Large engines — including jet engines, locomotive engines and power-generation turbines — benefit tremendously from the use of digital twins, especially for helping to establish timeframes for regularly needed maintenance.

2. Structures and their systems

Big physical structures, such as large buildings or offshore drilling platforms, can be improved through digital twins, particularly during their design. Also useful in designing the systems operating within those structures, such as HVAC systems.

3. Manufacturing operations

Since digital twins are meant to mirror a product’s entire lifecycle, it’s not surprising that digital twins have become ubiquitous in all stages of manufacturing, guiding products from design to finished product, and all steps in between.

4. Healthcare services

Just as products can be profiled through the use of digital twins, so can patients receiving healthcare services. The same type system of sensor-generated data can be used to track a variety of health indicators and generate key insights.

5. Automotive industry

Cars represent many types of complex, co-functioning systems, and digital twins are used extensively in auto design, both to improve vehicle performance and increase the efficiency surrounding their production.

6. Urban planning

Civil engineers and others involved in urban planning activities are aided significantly by the use of digital twins, which can show 3D and 4D spatial data in real time and also incorporate augmented reality systems into built environments.

Benefits of Digital Twin

Following are the benefits or advantages of Digital Twin:

  1. Industry can monitor constant stream of usage and performance data in real time.

  2. Industry can combine end to end asset or product life cycle data into digital threads.

  3. Industries support new products as a service business model.

  4. It drives innovations in manufacturing, R&D, supply chain management, service and logistics.

  5. Digital twins help to accelerate medical innovation. Digital twins are helping in research of tumours and development of new drugs.

  6. These tools help doctors accurately optimize peformance of patient specific treatment plans. This technology can bring life saving innovation to market faster, reduce medical cost and increase patient safety.

  7. By creating digital twin of a hospital, one can observe potential changes in operational strategy, capacities, staffing and care delivery models.

Drawbacks of Digital Twin

Following are the drawbacks or disadvantages of Digital Twin:

  1. The success of technology is dependent on internet connectivity.

  2. The security is at stake.

  3. The digital twins concept is based on 3D CAD models and not on 2D drawings.

  4. Digital twin will be required across entire supply chains.

  5. The challenges involved here include globalization and new manufacturing techniques. Managing all these design data for digital twin among partners and suppliers as the physical product evolves will be a challenge.

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