An introduction to digital twins, an approach to managing assets that is gaining increasing traction across many business sectors, and that will ultimately disrupt many industry business models.
Digital twins and the Coordination Age
Digital twins are an enabler of the Coordination Age, in which a global need to improve the efficiency of resource use, combined with supply-side technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G and AI, is driving a revolutionary change in the way that economies work.
In this change, the fundamental mechanism needed is coordination – the organisation of multiple parties and assets to deliver a desired end-goal. Examples of this need can be found in all sectors of the economy and all areas of life, such as healthcare, manufacturing, the smart home, smart transport, etc.
To make this happen in practice a number of practical challenges need to be addressed:
- Physical and digital assets need to be able to work together more easily
- Authorised users need better real-time remote insight on and control of distributed assets
- Certain things and processes need to be able to act with greater autonomy (albeit within clear rules)
- More realistic and reliable models/simulations are needed to test and evaluate different solutions and scenarios
Digital twins are a means towards all these ends, providing a mechanism whereby processes and things can become interoperable and intelligent on demand to authorised users.
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What is a digital twin?
A digital twin is a digital representation of an existing physical or digital entity:
- Examples of digital twins of physical entities include twins of simple sensors (such as a temperature sensor), machine components (such as a fan in a motor), a sub-system within a motor (such as a cooling system), the entire motor, or the whole vehicle containing the motor
- Examples of digital twins of digital entities include digital twins of data, a digital process (such as an order process or an automation protocol), or an entire digital business value network (such as a centralised data warehouse).
Digital twinning is a method of designing information systems that enables:
- First visualisation, then dynamic control and emulation/simulation of assets. This can be ‘offline’ from the actual asset in the sense of a model to predict behaviours in different scenarios, or in real-time as a means to control and monitor operations.
- A more efficient way to manage large volumes of data, where instead of collecting ‘data lakes’ storing every data point, data is organised into more manageable datasets capturing only meaningful events. This can reduce the need for data storage by up to 90%, which can be highly significant. An aircraft’s jet engine can generate Terabytes of data in a few hours of operation, for example.
Customers often arrive at the need for digital twins with one or other of these needs in mind, and over time end up utilising both.
Archetypal customers are:
- Organisations that want to share data and create value from numerous sensors and devices, such as weather stations, and connect consumer devices (e.g. washing machines, doorbells, cookers) to consumer / household app dashboards.
- Organisations that want to make better use of complex assets by using the data they generate to help them operate more efficiently. Examples of such assets include large buildings, trains, jet engines, manufacturing processes, etc. The first step in this process is to organise the data so that it can be used.
The process may ultimately evolve to the point where the organisation possesses a highly sophisticated twin of the entire asset made with information from many component twins from multiple sensors and sources. The overall twin may comprise both historical data of past behaviour, and live real-time data from the thing.
Figure 1: Example of a composite digital twin
Source: STL Partners
STL Partners sees digital twins as a key building block of the Internet for Things, and thereby part of the DNA of the Coordination Age in the way that websites and URLs are part of the DNA for the Information Age.
As well as these wider implications, they have potential applications within telcos, and for their customers and partners.
Digital twins: A catalyst of disruption in the Coordination Age explores why telecoms operators need to understand digital twins and their application. The report then sets out how operators and vendors can best take advantage of digital twins.
Table of contents
- Executive Summary
- Digital twins and the Coordination Age
- What is a digital twin?
- What do digital twins do?
- How is a digital twin different from a simulation?
- Why else are digital twins exciting?
- So where is the money?
- What are the challenges?
- The evolving impact of digital twins
- Digital twins for telcos
- Potential internal applications
- Speaking customers’ language
- Telcos as providers of digital twins
- Dating services for digital twins
- Civil engineering: Making all the pieces work together in real life