Present and future of digital twins

Visualization Of Futuristic Airplane Engine Maintenance
Cristina De Luca -

August 18, 2023

Digital twins are set to revolutionize industries and shape the future of manufacturing and society. The potential applications are vast, with opportunities to optimize processes, improve products and create more sustainable and efficient systems.

The global market is expected to grow by 38 per cent a year, reaching US$16 billion by 20231, according to Deloitte. According to IoT Analytics in its Digital Twin Market Report 2023-2027, the digital twin market expanded by 71 per cent between 2020 and 2022. Currently, 63 per cent of manufacturers are developing a digital twin or have plans to develop a digital twin.

Driving this growth are the technology giants, who are making considerable investments in the creation of digital twins to boost the industrial use of their cloud services. For example, NVIDIA’s GTC conference in September 2022 highlighted new digital twin capabilities as part of the Omniverse platform. The conference also announced early adopters, including manufacturing giants Lockheed Martin and Jaguar Land Rover.

Among startups, smart buildings have emerged as one of the main use cases for digital twin software, with several notable financings in the building monitoring market. For example, European startups Disperse and Modulous raised rounds of $16.0 million and $12.0 million respectively during the second half of 2022 – both focusing on building analytics and construction site digital twins. Cupix, another company specializing in similar services, secured US$13.7 million in a Series C round in the same period. In 2023, VEERUM, a company focused on digitalized infrastructure management, raised $9.3 million in a late-stage venture capital round in March.

At the user end, a growing number of companies in asset-intensive sectors such as oil and gas, aerospace, automotive and industrial products are harnessing digital twins to transform production. In addition to the industrial sector, organizations are testing digital twins in the retail, healthcare, and smart city domains.

What results are these companies looking for? According to recent McKinsey research, increasing efficiency, reducing costs and building better products. Digital twins are speeding up product and process development, optimizing performance and enabling predictive maintenance.

In the opinion of companies that are pioneers in the use of technology:

  • Digital twins provide a risk-free product development environment, allowing design and engineering teams to explore more design options without the cost associated with producing and testing physical prototypes.

  • Digital twins improve testing and validation, allowing new solutions to be evaluated in a wide range of realistic scenarios, including unusual and extreme operating conditions.

  • Digital twins provide deeper insights into product behaviour. Engineers can use digital twin models to monitor the state of any part of the system at any time and track complex interactions between product elements.

  • Digital twins allow real data to inform product improvements, simulating the impact of proposed design changes using data collected from products operating in the field.

To better understand the wide range of possible applications for digital twins, one possible classification approach is called “๐Ÿ“ ๐๐ฌ”, adopted by Jeff Winter, senior director of industrial strategy and manufacturing at Hitachi Solutions, and which covers almost all use cases for industrial digital twins:

  • ๐๐š๐ซ๐ญ ๐ƒ๐ข๐ ๐ข๐ญ๐š๐ฅ ๐“๐ฐ๐ข๐ง: Digital representation of components or individual parts, usually to understand the physical, mechanical and electrical characteristics of the part. This allows companies to monitor, analyze and predict the performance and integrity of that specific part, optimizing maintenance schedules and extending its life cycle.

  • ๐๐ซ๐จ๐๐ฎ๐œ๐ญ ๐ƒ๐ข๐ ๐ข๐ญ๐š๐ฅ ๐“๐ฐ๐ข๐ง: Digital representation of the interoperability of components or parts as they work together as part of a product. This allows companies to simulate and test product behavior under various conditions, improving design, ensuring quality and speeding up time to market.

  • ๐๐ฅ๐š๐ง๐ญ ๐ƒ๐ข๐ ๐ข๐ญ๐š๐ฅ ๐“๐ฐ๐ข๐ง: Digital representation of a plant, facility, or system to understand how assets work together at an operational level. This allows companies to improve operational efficiency, reduce downtime and optimize production processes through real-time insights and predictive analytics.

  • ๐๐ซ๐จ๐œ๐ž๐ฌ๐ฌ ๐ƒ๐ข๐ ๐ข๐ญ๐š๐ฅ ๐“๐ฐ๐ข๐ง: Digital representation of a specific process or workflow in a system or facility. This helps companies refine and optimize processes, identify inefficiencies and ensure smoother, more cost-effective operations.

  • ๐๐ž๐ซ๐ฌ๐จ๐ง ๐ƒ๐ข๐ ๐ข๐ญ๐š๐ฅ ๐“๐ฐ๐ข๐ง: Digital representation of a person to capture their movements, habits, interactions, skills, knowledge, and preferences. This helps companies gain insight into workflow patterns, fatigue patterns and safety issues, ensuring greater productivity and reducing workplace-related injuries.

As technology continues to evolve and become more sophisticated, companies can expect even greater opportunities for optimization, personalization, and innovation.

Looking ahead, there are several trends in digital twin technology that are likely to shape its development and application in the future. One of the most significant trends is the greater integration of digital twin technology with other Industry 4.0 technologies, such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things.

By using digital twin technology, companies can identify inefficiencies in their processes and make improvements. For example, Siemens used digital twin technology to optimize wind turbine production. By simulating different production scenarios, the company was able to increase production efficiency by 10 per cent. The results of using digital twin technology are significant, with companies reporting greater efficiency, reduced costs, improved quality, better customer service and improved safety. By leveraging digital twin technology, companies can gain a competitive advantage in their sectors and improve their bottom line. This integration will enable even more sophisticated simulations and greater insights into operational performance, which in turn will lead to more efficient and effective processes.

Another important trend is the increasing use of digital twin technology in healthcare. With the ability to simulate the behaviour of organs and predict the progression of diseases, digital twin technology has enormous potential for drug development and personalized medicine. As the technology continues to evolve, we can expect even wider adoption in healthcare and perhaps even the creation of digital twins for individual patients to aid diagnosis and treatment.

Beyond health, digital twin technology is expected to play an important role in the development of smart cities. By creating digital twins of entire cities, urban planners will be able to simulate the effects of different political decisions and make more informed decisions about the allocation of resources. This allows cities to become more efficient and sustainable, as well as improving the quality of life of their residents.

Another trend we can expect in the future is the emergence of virtual twins. As digital twin technology becomes even more sophisticated, it should be possible to create virtual representations of physical objects that are so accurate that they can be used to replace the physical object itself. This could have major implications for sectors such as aerospace and automotive, where the cost of physical prototypes is high.

A key area of innovation is integrating digital twin technology with other advanced technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence and blockchain. By harnessing the power of machine learning and AI, digital twins can be trained to make more accurate predictions and identify patterns in large data sets. This allows companies to further optimize their processes, reducing waste, increasing efficiency and improving the quality of their products.

There will be a greater focus on security and privacy as digital twin technology becomes more widely used. Companies will need to ensure that their digital twins are protected against cyber attacks and that all data collected is kept secure and private. This will be a big challenge, but one that will need to be met if digital twin technology is to be fully adopted by industry and society. The future of digital twin technology looks bright, with countless opportunities for development and application.

In this sense, blockchain technology can play a role in the development of digital twins, especially when it comes to guaranteeing data security and privacy. By using blockchain to create secure, decentralized networks for storing and sharing data, companies can be sure that their digital twin data is protected against cyberattacks and unauthorized access.

As more advanced technologies are integrated into the digital twins, we can expect even more accurate simulations and greater insights into operational performance will lead to more efficient and effective processes, better products and a more sustainable future for industry and society.

Therefore, companies that stay ahead of these trends and invest in digital twin technology will be well-placed to succeed in the coming years.