Digital Twins (of products)

The concept of a ‘digital twin’ has been suggested as one of the top technology trends for 2017, but what is it all about? The digital twin is the virtual counterpart of a real physical product, and it captures the data and information related to a product’s lifecycle from design and manufacturing all the way to use and final disposal.

Why is this important?

The existing applications of digital twins include for example storing and accessing product information using RFID codes and computer-aided 3D design models. However, technology development under the megatrend of digitalisation holds promise for way more radical progress with digital twins: In-house manufacturing applications are about to step up towards solutions across entire supply chains and end-use. The lacking connection and integration between the virtual model and the physical product will be intensified towards dynamic use of data and information flow. And the advances in blockchain technologies, artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous systems will level up the importance of digital twins, as decision-making, transactions and learning will growingly rely on interconnected products and systems, i.e. Industry 4.0 and the internet of things (IoT).

Things to keep an eye on

The role of the digital twin in the platform economy is central, as it can ideally be the universal access point for all product information as well as accumulated data along a product’s lifecycle. For design, modelling and manufacturing of products the use of digital twins is typically managed with dynamic software models. These will be in the near-future even more closely interconnected to production processes and equipment, and applications are expected to spread and evolve from manufacturing industries to many other contexts such as end-user interfaces, transport sector, service industries, etc. Platforms managing and making use of all these data, information and interconnections will evolve, and the business models to product and service industries are going to change too. Visionaries anticipate even more radical opportunities in the longer term as digital twins of products and services will be followed by digital representations of facilities, environments, people, businesses and processes.

The digital twin is much more an opportunity than a threat, as the involvement of the virtual dimension aims to improve the quality, efficiency and performance of products, services and processes rather than replacing or displacing the real physical counterpart. In fact, the digital twin has been claimed to support the human knowledge kit, boosting problem solving and innovation by enhancing our uniquely human capacity to conceptualise, compare and collaborate.

Selected articles and websites

Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2017
How To Put Your Digital Twin On Steroids
Leveraging Digital Twins To Breathe New Life Into Your Products And Services
Digital Twin: Manufacturing Excellence through Virtual Factory Replication
About The Importance of Autonomy and Digital Twins for the Future of Manufacturing
Digital Twin Data Modeling with AutomationML and a Communication Methodology for Data Exchange
Digitalization in machine building: The digital twin
GE Digital Twin Game

Heidi Auvinen

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
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