According to Wikipedia, “A digital twin is a digital representation of an intended or actual real-world physical product, system, or process (a physical twin) that serves as the effectively indistinguishable digital counterpart of it for practical purposes, such as simulation, integration, testing, monitoring, and maintenance”.
Digital Twins, the exact replicas of the physical world in the virtual, help scientists and engineers to study and improve the prototype in combination with every possible and improbable offering – thanks also to the progress of the necessary technology – significant advantages and unique opportunities.
The Bible states that on the last day of creation, God said, “Let us make man in our image and after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). Without any intention of blasphemy, it seems that the time has come for humans, God’s creation, to use the technology they have developed in recent years to create digital replicas of themselves and the world around them. These digital twins, as they are referred to in international literature, are exact copies of physical life in a digital/virtual environment. They “live” in real-time and are used to study their reactions to various stimuli and changes, with the goal of improving the prototype.
The applications of digital twins are vast, from testing the operation of a new machine or construction without risking harm, to examining the effects of interventions on a factory’s operation and the human body. It also helps in studying the behavior of the oceans and the planet, and in taking action to improve specific parameters. With the help of digital twins, it was possible to develop vaccines in record time to deal with the recent pandemic.
The “pros” are too many
The benefits of using Digital Twins are numerous and the drawbacks are minimal, with the exception of initial skepticism towards new technology, the cost of the initial setup and study, and the lack of knowledge and culture in the field (which can be easily overcome with more widespread and effective information for those who are interested).
The advantages of Digital Twins are so compelling that even the skeptics are won over. For example, Ansys, one of the four major and well-known companies (the others being Siemens Digital Industries, Dassault Systemes, and Autodesk) in this space, lists the advantages and goals grouped according to the user’s needs:
- Risk Assessment – The design, installation and testing of a virtual model of a machine or integrated system to see if it ‘works’ before it is even built.
- Predictive and strategic maintenance – The prediction of the occurrence of problems, based on various situations and scenarios, so that when they arise, at some point, their treatment can be considered business as usual.
- Production optimization – The virtual implementation of hypothetical scenarios to evaluate the results of an upgrade by testing various solutions.
- Financial assessment – Determination and accurate calculation of the actual cost of the required materials and labor, so that the best decisions are made, in terms of financial issues.
- Real-time asset monitoring – Observe and predict the behavior of a facility in real-time.
It is therefore not surprising that Digital Twins-based solutions and applications continue to expand into more and more sectors and industries, with aerospace, automotive, construction, healthcare, manufacturing, oil and gas being the main beneficiaries. natural gas, as these have the greatest need for data analysis, based on specific scenarios.
The age of maturity
In their early stages, Digital Twins were simply simulations that combined modeling and performance analysis of a specific structure or system, such as an engine. The results of applying various scenarios to the digital twin were recorded and analyzed.
However, with the advancement of technology, including the expansion of infrastructure, the widespread deployment of sensors, and the use of Artificial Intelligence, it is now possible to model the operation of an entire factory or city. For example, Barcelona has utilized the European supercomputer Mare Nostrum to model its city. This allows for the consideration of a multitude of internal and external interactions in a timely, cost-effective, and realistic manner, which opens up exciting possibilities for the future.
An example of the potential of Digital Twins can be seen in BMW’s partnership with Ansys. The collaboration aims to develop simulation tools for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and automated/autonomous driving for their vehicles. These tools will help build safety scenarios and analyze system performance, with BMW aiming to become one of the first manufacturers to offer Level 3 (L3) automated driving to consumers.
Thanks to Ansys’ software, BMW engineers will be able to optimize the design and organization of simulated workflows more efficiently. The software utilizes algorithms to automatically search for the most robust design solutions, allowing for critical design decisions to be made early on, reducing both development time and project costs.
We are talking about a new reality
The maturity of respective technologies may just be taking shape, however, the prospects expand when it goes hand in hand with the corresponding social maturity. The latter has recently accelerated sharply, thanks to the catalytic role played by the pandemic in familiarizing ourselves with the increasingly digital manifestation of our lives.
Thus, publications such as that of BBC News, assured us that within the next decade it is very likely that we will have in front of us (or next to us, whatever you prefer) a “thinking digital twin” of ourselves. The author explains the technological side of this “revolution”, highlighting the latter’s relationship with the Meta and its avatar counterpart, which is now underway. Yet, the article does not hesitate to raise some ethical issues that may arise, such as who has the responsibility of the actions of our own “thinking” avatar and – in case it is somehow employed, who will be paid? The real person or their avatar? And if the second is true, how will this be done?
On a more practical level, the same article includes references to the use of Digital Twins in the automotive industry (by McLaren-Red Bull in Formula I racing), in the supply chain (by DHL, to optimize its warehouses), and even in entire cities (Singapore and Shanghai already use this technology to control large building complexes, limit pollution and optimize road traffic).
With the help of Digital Twins, many specialized companies and startups are trying to find sustainable solutions to detect the most difficult points and smooth out problems, starting from restoring the normal production flow of factories, passing through the “bottlenecks” of transport (ports, airports, interstate highways) and get down to the critical “last mile” and local details that need to be sorted out.