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Digital Twin; connecting the physical and digital world

Digital Twin is finally getting the attention it deserves. Still, Digital Twin as a concept becoming part of the mainstream has been slow in most industries, especially beyond industrial manufacturing, like marine engineering and aviation. There are two reasons for this: first, the technologies that make up Digital Twins have not yet matured enough for mass adoption by mid-sized companies. The second was that people were still not able to grasp what Digital Twinning had to offer and what it really means to invest in this technology – ‘How does it differ from a 3D model?’ ‘Is it not relevant only for industries and big machinery?’ were the industry murmurings.

What is a Digital Twin? A Digital Twin is a virtual representation of a physical object, process, or service. The representation can range from jet engines or wind farms to large-scale representations of buildings or even whole cities. 

However, Digital Twinning goes beyond the physical embodiment of an object. It can be used to encapsulate an object’s behaviors as well as its relationships and links to other objects in a dynamic system.

A digital twin, in essence, is a computer program that uses real world data by integrating the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, and data analytics to create a simulation that can depict how a product or process is performing and predict current and future scenarios and outputs by leveraging machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Signals of Digital Twin

A Digital Twin can position itself to be an enabler as systems become more and more complex. Digital Twinning bridges this nexus by replicating these processes anywhere in the world in a virtual environment so people can monitor them from anywhere in real-time.

Digital Twin also enables deploying automation at scale through a single platform that allows users to focus on the larger or more granular aspects of their choosing. A solar or wind farm, for example, located in the harsh seas near the Dutch island of Texel can be difficult to monitor in-person 24/7. A Digital Twin of these farms and their assets can help monitor their state and function without having to dispatch personnel under these harsh conditions. At a certain point, for some assets, self-initiating tests and cleaning mechanisms can be deployed via Digital Twin.

With the advancement of machine learning and a data-first approach, these virtual models have become a staple in modern engineering to drive innovation and improve performance as well.

The Opportunity Digital Twins provide

Digital Twins can allow the enhancement of strategic technology trends, prevent costly failures in physical objects, and, also, by using advanced analytical, monitoring, and predictive capabilities. It doesn’t only test the object, but the processes and services as well. For example: AMS Institute has used Digital Twin to launch gamified solutions that tests how to optimize energy consumption in a specific region of the Arena Poort area. By creating a socio-economic lens and capturing how different actors such as individual citizens and communities in this system respond to these proposed solutions, the approach creates scenarios that mirror real-world relationships that are otherwise hard to capture.

Finally, because humans are visually-oriented beings and since it revolves around visual representation, Digital Twinning is a much more intuitive way to collaborate. Essentially, as they enable transparency and collaboration, Digital Twins can serve as a constant source of truth as opposed to information being misrepresented and interpreted.

What we’ve seen

Let’s take a look at how our client, Growy started their journey with Digital Twinning. Growy started out as a vertical farm with a vision of becoming next-level healthy, sustainable, and affordable. To achieve this, they use robots to reduce labor costs, minimize human contact to keep plants healthy, and to tap into renewable energy and reduced water usage.

As a part of scaling up, Growy was expanding their vertical farms on various continents. Their vision of controlling quality and ensuring that all farms operate in a way that fulfills their promise of next-level healthy, sustainable, and affordable food was a key motivator for them to experiment with new innovations.

As monitoring, collaboration, and visualization were key values for Growy, a clear synergy with Digital Twin technology emerged. Growy has assets at multiple levels, such as plants, robots, and farm units, that they need to monitor. Not only was there a need to keep track of all these objects but they also had to consider the overall process and life cycle of the plant and the farm. That’s how the replication of the farm, its objects, and their life cycles in the here and now was identified as a key focus rather than using the Digital Twin for future simulations.

INFO tapped into IoT, data analytics, data integration, and visualization through a platform (using 2D assets) and approached the concept in a way that was be faster in comparison to traditional 3D modeling approaches. This helped us to test and understand if the technology and the concept could fulfilling our need to monitor, visualize and control assets of the farm remotely and demonstrate a clear proof of concept of how Digital Twin concept could help accomplish the vision and create economical value for the company

Experimentation is a big part of Growy delivering on its promise and staying ahead of the curve. With all the data being collected on how different levels of water, nutrition, and oxygen help with yield and quality, the next step for Growy could be to run simulations by leveraging machine learning to create new scenarios and experiment with different plant profiles.

To optimize visualization and collaboration, their solution could explore 3D modeling of the farms to run simulations or help teams understand how to optimize farming units inside the farm to meet their goals as well.

Advice on how to get started

Today  – Research what value Digital Twin can add
Get a dialogue going and determine what the Digital Twin concept can mean for your business and team. By taking a design-led research approach to understanding what value Digital Twin can add, you can pave the way for actual Digital Twinning in the (near) future. The technology and concepts are constantly evolving, as are their applications, and there is no one way to fulfill a certain need or approach a certain problem. Diving deep into case studies, research papers, and keynotes about the subject can help you to build context and assess what you can achieve with the technology beyond the traditional applications.

Tomorrow  – Evaluate which values will you unlock
Now that you have a baseline, start aligning the value that Digital Twins offer with the challenges you need to address to see if there is a junction somewhere and if Digital Twin is a good fit. A good rule of thumb is to make sure you’re unlocking two or more values out of the following:

  • automation
  • testing strategies
  • risk management
  • predictive analysis
  • simulations
  • enhance CE
  • predictive maintenance
  • optimizing operations
  • monitoring
  • experimentation
  • sustainability targets

Evaluate what the key technologies from Digital Twin are and take a lean approach to test if the technological concept of ‘Twinning’ the process, object, or its behavior will help address the challenge or unlock the value you identified.

Done with your evaluation? Then it’s time to take a look at the people that will embark on your Digital Twinning journey. Do you have a team in place with the necessary skills? Or do you need to look outside the organization?

Implementation of Digital Twins can be complex. However, by working on smaller chunks that make up the Digital Twin concept and technologies involved, we can get a step closer to streamlining which features will create the most value to convince your stakeholders of the technology. Work on smaller chunks that make up the Digital Twin space. Focus on the concept and ideate on low-fidelity ways to achieve the same result. Catch our keynote at TNW 2022 (4) to see how you can build an approach for your needs.

Day after tomorrow  - Strong need for industry collaboration 

Digital Twin opens up a bunch of possibilities for your complex business needs. And since we’re all in the same boat there is a strong need for the industry to collaborate and share frameworks, approaches, and experiences while at the same time working with this technology to match it more to the challenges it is solving.

Despite all of the benefits, Digital Twins are not suitable in all instances. Some business problems simply do not need a Digital Twin and can be solved without the associated investment in time and cost.

At the same time, with so many connected devices and technologies involved, security and privacy are important themes to consider. The close connectedness between physical and digital objects also increases the risks of security breaches and foul play. For certain domains in the public realm, Digital Twins and IoT pose a considerable risk, and a lot of attention needs to be paid to tightening security.

INFO evaluates how to implement emerging technology like Digital Twinning from a responsible design lens while considering themes of security, privacy and ethics as well. Our hope is in the future we collaborate with companies and industry value chains to explore these frameworks and to bridge the knowledge gap when it comes to new emerging technologies like Digital Twins to solve societal gaps.