“Digital Twins” sounds like yet another buzzword the IT industry generates every year. The kind of term that feeds the hype and makes you feel like you are missing out on something. It may seem everybody else is already spending most of their time to get it up and running.
Yet the truth of the matter is that the notion of having a digital representation of a real-world object, process, or service is nothing new. In fact, Michael Grieves coined the term in a product lifecycle management research he conducted at the University of Michigan in 2002.
NASA the pioneer of digital twins
Interestingly enough, NASA was among the pioneers to do some of the groundwork of designing the first case for a digital twin. Some may claim that this proves that the idea is a thing from outer space. It really does not come as a surprise that an organization that has to operate extremely carefully on all levels was the first one to give it a go.
NASA’s project dollars have to be spent wisely. That is certainly one factor. Another one is that many of NASA’s projects are marked with some obvious physical challenges. It adds a new dimension that requires a different approach if you will. Therefore, the digital twin idea was almost a natural fit.
A digital twin reduces risks and identifies gaps for optimization
In short, digital twins will considerably minimize risks because they allow for a precise image of the real world. In that sense, they provide a testing ground that lets you change settings or other parameters. You do so at no peril of damaging vital assets or infrastructure. Not only that but digital twins can certainly also help to make sustained decisions. It lets you identify the potential for optimization, accelerate the development of new products or enhance the maintenance quality. Perhaps most importantly, they can be a differentiator that sets a product apart from competitive products.
As has been pointed out above, the need for digital twins will most likely be the highest in industries that have natural constraints on consuming resources. These industries include production, the oil and gas industry, aerospace and automotive. But there are certainly additional applications for digital twins such as the design of smart cities, smart warehouses, and many others.
The driving forces that put digital twins within reach are advancements in IoT, cloud and mobile technologies such as 5G. To make them work, users need to be able to collect data via IoT devices – for instance by the help of wearable barcode scanners. This requires maximum connectivity with the option of allowing for bidirectional data communications.
Introducing new technologies without jeopardizing staff motivation
Digital twins can easily generate a feeling of surveillance among staff which is certainly not desirable. The fear of layoffs is another common issue workers may voice; even though by definition they are an extension rather than a replacement. But organizations will need to address and assuage these kind of concerns. Even more so since data regulations are particularly strict in European countries and more and more countries are modeling their data privacy regulations after EU standards. At the end of the day, it is all about striking the right balance.
“The global market for digital twins is expected to grow 38 percent annually to reach $16 billion by 2031,” says a Deloitte study. But that is not the only piece of evidence that seems to suggest that digital twins are not just recently catching on. A Gartner survey reveals that “Digital Twins Are Entering Mainstream Use”. A key finding of the survey claims that “75 percent of organizations implementing IoT already use digital twins or plan to within a year”.
So it seems fair to say: No, this is not just another IT buzzword. This has already been happening and the benefits speak for itself.