What Are Digital Twins? Everything You Need to Know


The concept of a digital twin is gaining popularity and transforming how teams approach their operations. From the health care industry to the supply chain, this technology is popping up all over, helping businesses refine their practices and maximize their profits. 

What is a digital twin, and how do you use one? We are diving into this technology and sharing its many advantages, like catching potential production issues early or testing new ideas without interfering with efficiency. 

What Are Digital Twins?

A digital twin simulation is a virtual model accurately representing a physical object or process in real time. They are a valuable tool for:

  • Identifying issues within the system before they occur
  • Preventing downtime
  • Improving processes
  • Developing new opportunities for growth
  • Future planning

Digital twins allow you to see how elements and dynamics function within a system. The representation is more than a snapshot of what is happening. It is like stepping into a virtual reality where you can observe the entire system without physically being present to monitor the various components of a process in real life.  

This concept dates back to the 1960s, when NASA replicated each of its spacecraft to simulate and study their behavior. NASA employees referred to digital twins as living models, and began working with them in response to the Apollo 13 explosion.

Around 40 years later, a professor at the University of Michigan introduced the concept of digital twins to manufacturing. In 2010, people began calling interactive replica models their modern-day term — digital twins.

How Digital Twins Work

A digital twin system consists of three primary components.

Hardware

Internet of Things sensors are the hardware that plays a vital role in gathering the data used for digital twins. These sensors, situated throughout the essential parts of a process, exchange information between the physical process and the software that creates a virtual replica. 

Middleware

The second component is data management middleware. Here, the hardware stores and processes the necessary information for the digital twin model. 

The middleware platform plays a critical role in data tasks, such as:

  • Integration
  • Visualization
  • Modeling and governance 
  • Quality control
  • Connectivity

Software 

Data collection is useless without a way to observe and evaluate it.  Software takes the data from the sensors, gathered and stored by the middleware, and turns those observations into valuable insights about the process. The software uses the collected data to form a digital twin model that accurately reflects what is happening in real time. 

When Are Digital Twins Used?

Several industries use digital twins.

  • Manufacturing: The manufacturing industry relies on digital twin technology for everything from product development testing to predictive equipment maintenance. These types of technological advancements fuel Industry 4.0 innovation and allow manufacturers to use massive amounts of data to refine their practices and produce top-quality products with the highest-efficiency processes. 
  • Supply chain: With so many moving parts working together, the supply chain quickly derails when one component operates inefficiently. Likewise, testing out new products and processes can create massive delays. Digital twin technology allows those working within the supply chain to try out logistical changes without impacting the rest of the chain. 
  • Construction: Digital twin technology can help the construction industry establish better project plans and monitor ongoing, real-time progress. Using the twin model, teams can test new changes and work on optimizing the project without causing delays that could throw the project off schedule. Digital twins allow construction teams to save valuable time and money.
  • Health care: The health care industry uses digital twins in two mission-critical ways. The first is by creating models of the human body for testing purposes before applying techniques and performing procedures. The industry also uses digital twin technology to reevaluate facility processes and improve performance to effectively accommodate fluctuating demands. 
  • Automotive: Digital twins are a tool in the automotive industry to establish new changes to potential vehicles during the development process without needing real-world operation and testing. This technology has enabled auto manufacturers to design and develop new car models more efficiently.   
  • Architecture: Digital twins can play a significant role in architectural design. Changing design plans to work around limitations or errors is much easier with a virtual model. Architects can use the data from past projects to inform future decision-making. 
  • Retail: The retail industry uses digital twin technology to create market and consumer models. They can use IoT sensors throughout the retail store to gather valuable insights into customer behavior and product performance. Digital twins allow them to visualize purchasing and demographic data. 

As this technology evolves, industries are increasingly taking advantage of its benefits and looking for ways to optimize their products and processes. 

Types of Digital Twins 

There are various types of digital twins. In general, they fit into three categories.

  • Product digital twins: This type uses the twin to validate product performance under several conditions. Those evaluating the digital twin can use the information to make pivotal decisions about the product design without needing to develop multiple prototypes.
  • Production digital twins: Manufacturers and designers can use a manufacturing process model to determine the most efficient, reliable production methods. This type of digital twin can predict maintenance needs and help reduce downtime.
  • Performance digital twins: The operational data gathered for this type of digital twin informs decision-making regarding the system's room for improvement and overall effectiveness. 

Digital Twin vs. Simulation

There is some confusion between the concept of a digital twin and a simulation. The two are alike, but have some differentiating characteristics. 

What Is a Simulation?

A simulation refers to a virtual model used to imitate a system's operations or processes. People use simulations to analyze how something is performing and how it will respond to specific changes. 

Simulations allow you to test:

  • Systems
  • Concepts
  • Processes
  • Products

The simulation is typically exclusive to a specific piece of equipment or part of the process. It operates independently of what is happening in real life.

How Are They Different? 

The primary difference between a simulation and a digital twin is that the latter can accurately reflect real-time processes. Simulations allow you to analyze system performance, while digital twin technology lets you observe operations as they occur.

Benefits of Digital Twins

There are many advantages to using digital twin technology for your dynamics and elements.

Greater Insights

One of the most notable benefits of using digital twins is the expansive insight they offer about your processes. 

More awareness means a better understanding of what contributes to product quality and operational efficiency. Businesspeople use this technology to make wiser and more informed decisions. 

With these valuable insights, planning is easier and more accurate. You can use your historical data to inform what changes and innovations you implement while reducing the associated risks you would have without a virtual model to test on. 

Plus, having access to so much data about your operation can help you tackle new business opportunities like small-batch manufacturing or mass customization. 

Improved Efficiency

Because a digital twin offers valuable insights into your processes, you can use this data to proactively refine your practices and correct any inefficiencies. 

Having a model to test new methods allows you to find and implement solutions without interrupting ongoing processes and causing delays. This technology can help teams refine their practices and improve performance, leading to better efficiency. 

With the tools to gain access to your equipment's performance in industries like manufacturing and construction, you can also boost overall equipment effectiveness.

Boosted Performance and Productivity

One of the most remarkable benefits of using digital twins is improved performance and productivity. When businesses can closely monitor their production and adjust without interfering with production processes, they can optimize their production times and get more done.

With better performance and productivity, companies can maximize their operations and ultimately boost their profits. 

Remote, Real-Time Monitoring

It can be nearly impossible to obtain insights into processes or systems as they play out in real time. A digital twin allows you to get a glimpse of what's happening in the moment while you observe from a remote location.

Having remote access to this virtual model allows teams to keep a close eye on the process around the clock. Real-time remote monitoring can also help improve team collaboration because individuals can see what's going on from anywhere. 

Ultimately, digital twins make monitoring equipment and production more convenient. The easier it is to detect potential issues, the better the chances of correcting the problem and maintaining operational efficiency. 

Predictive Maintenance 

Another benefit of using digital twins is having the tools to proactively predict maintenance. The system's IoT sensors can comb through massive amounts of data to predict real-time maintenance needs. The sooner teams are aware of issues, the more quickly they can respond to minimizing the problems' impact.  

Similarly, digital twins allow businesses to test new products and processes without having to create them in the real world. Doing so can reduce waste and illuminate areas in production that need adjustments. In addition to streamlining product development, this also helps companies with accelerated risk assessment.

How Are Digital Twins Used in the Supply Chain?

Digital twins are invaluable for many different supply chain applications, especially given the state of the global supply chain crisis

The following are a few ways this field uses digital twin technology.

  • Understanding supply chain behavior: Digital twins can offer valuable insights into supply chain dynamics and make it easier to understand what is happening and where. 
  • Identifying bottlenecks: Bottlenecks can arise anywhere within production and transportation. One of the leading functions of digital twin technology for the supply chain is its assistance in identifying these obstacles early, before they become a costly problem. 
  • Testing new changes: Trying new systems within the supply chain can lead to disruptions and delays. Digital twins allow those working within the supply chain to test changes virtually, without interfering with other processes. 
  • Optimizing inventory management: Digital twins allow you to find ways to refine and optimize inventory management to minimize overall production and storage costs. Workers can gain access to a single warehouse or network of warehouses with this technology. 
  • Mapping transportation: The supply chain can use digital models to establish better transportation paths and resources. 
  • Planning: When a supply chain can rely on a digital twin, it can make more informed decisions regarding financials and forecast future needs more accurately. 

Digital Twin Benefits for the Supply Chain

 There are many advantages of introducing digital twins to supply chain operations.

  • Seamless visibility: With so many interconnected moving parts, the supply chain can easily become complicated. Digital twins allow teams to see into every facet of their operation from start to finish. 
  • Real-time data from multiple sources: Another benefit of using this technology for the supply chain is having real-time data from several sources, ranging from suppliers to transportation databases to inventory. Gathering information from all these places gives you a better overall picture of the supply chain. 
  • Conducting experiments: One of the most significant advantages of implementing digital twin technology into an operation is the ability to alter variables without adversely affecting other processes. Using twin models helps you see how changes will impact your processes or products without needing physical prototypes or test runs. 
  • Risk assessments: In the supply chain, the earlier a business can identify potential issues, the better. Digital twins allow for better risk assessment and proactive maintenance. 

Digital twins are modernizing the way supply chains function in the world. This technology improves visibility at every phase of production, and it is exceptionally beneficial for quickly making informed decisions.

These virtual models allow teams to maintain productivity and performance even during times of uncertainty. Digital twins can even boost a business' revenue and enhance product quality. 

Learn More About Digital Twin Technology and Your Supply Chain

Given the current status of the global supply chain, you may be searching for ways to improve your processes and enhance your business. At ParkourSC, we want to help you with digital twin technology that gives you diagnostic and predictive insights for every part of your supply chain. 

Our digital twin software allows your operation to boost your growth by identifying potential issues and providing visibility at all levels of your logistics in real time. 

Are you interested in learning more about how digital twin technology can boost your supply chain? Contact us today!