Simulating the realities of industry without the risk
Digital twins are digital representations of physical objects or environments that exist in the real world. Central to the existence of digital twins are sensors and analytic technology, which enable the digital twin to collect real time information on its physical counterpart and adapt its state to match.
Digital twins are becoming indispensable in industry for a variety of different reasons. Using digital twins, operators can gain a better understanding of their systems – from measuring levels of wear in a piece of machinery to analysing traffic flows in smart city road networks. When changes need to be made, those in charge of such systems can also experiment with the digital twin first, without risking unplanned downtime or disruption to the real world model.
So, what sectors are championing the rise of the digital twin today? D/SRUPTION takes a look at five industries making use of this technology now.
1) Urban planning
With our lived environments becoming ever more connected, it is now possible to create simulated models of our towns and cities. This is one step being taken by Rotterdam in The Netherlands, which has placed sensors on everything from its waste containers to its canal bridges, collecting information on the operations of public services, traffic and even the way emergencies are dealt with in the local area.
Rotterdam’s digital twin was facilitated by the city’s wider commitment to smart solutions. By combining existing information such as maps, building blueprints and real time sensor information with a digital twin platform, solutions are being developed to improve urban life. More effective management by digital twins of mobility, public amenities such as waste disposal, and the provision of resources such as water and power brings economic and social benefits to our urban spaces, making them better, more profitable places to live.
When you think of twins, you probably think of people. And, as the name suggests, one of the most viable applications of digital twin technology is in the creation of digital simulations of our own bodies. Using medical monitoring technology, we can measure our vital statistics such as heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen levels, and transfer that data to a simulated version of ourselves. This helps healthcare professionals to monitor patients remotely, aiding in the diagnosis of disease – especially when AI is added into the mix.
Digital twins also enable doctors to simulate the results of procedures before they are carried out. Using digital twins of organs – such as the digital twins of the heart created by Siemens Healthineers – treatment can be tested to see if it is likely to be safe and effective. Digital twins can also be used to great effect in the healthcare industry in treatment complexes themselves, to monitor the buildings, machinery and care that is given to patients in a much broader healthcare ecosystem.
Digital twins are on the rise in the automotive industry thanks to the emphasis currently being placed on self driving cars. In order to achieve the vision of an autonomous vehicle (AV) future, cars and road systems must be highly connected. This mass of data makes them ideal candidates for digital twins, as simulated models enable engineers to analyse how vehicles behave in specific conditions. Given the safety concerns surrounding AVs in particular, testing models via simulations is crucial before they can be unleashed onto the roads.
In more traditional products, digital twins can also be used to track the performance of vehicles from the moment of their manufacture right through to their end of life, helping automotive companies to better understand this journey. In addition, by giving manufacturers access to data on the use and state of repair of vehicles via digital twins, maintenance as-a-service packages can also be added on to initial sales deals. This not only generates additional revenue for automakers, but it also represents an improved service for the customer.
4) Asset management
Digital twins are revolutionising the way that businesses manage their assets – whether that be machinery on the factory floor, or remote industrial operations such as oil rigs or specialised vehicles. According to Oracle, more than 70 per cent of businesses still use manual techniques to locate and track their assets, a process which leads to inaccurate information and significant amounts of unplanned downtime when items aren’t where they are supposed to be.
Real time asset monitoring via digital twins gives companies accurate information on the location of their assets, as well as their states of repair. This enables early fault detection and the predictive maintenance of machinery, to increase performance and minimise disruption to business operations. Asset management will further benefit from the growing convergence of digital twins with augmented and virtual reality technologies, as this will improve the visualisation of industrial processes and machinery, making them easier to understand and optimise.
5) Financial services
The worth of digital twins might be most easily visualised within heavy industrial settings, but this technology also has a role to play in modelling customer behaviour. This can be particularly useful in sectors such as financial services, where institutions can create personalised profiles of individuals and simulate the kinds of decisions they might take with their finances. Although modelling consumer behaviour is not new to the financial services sector, digital twin technology enables this to be undertaken at a much more personalised level.
At PwC, digital twins have been used to model individual policy holders and simulate their future balance sheets and cash flows. By considering the impact of sociodemographic, behavioural, financial and health factors on customer data over a period of time, asset managers and insurance companies are better placed to understand the needs of their clients – and how these might change in line with significant life events. By projecting the likely impact of various financial decisions, digital twins can help customers to find optimised and personalised strategies for managing their money.
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