September 15, 2020
While the first digital twin model was introduced in 2002, they have truly become a reality in the last 5 years. Digital twins allow to create a complete digital replica of a physical object and use the twin as the main point of digital communication.
Although developed mainly for the manufacturing industry, they are being applied to an increasing number of fields, such as facility management, smart cities, logistics and healthcare. Gartner predicts that by 2022 over 66% of companies with running IoT solutions will also have at least one digital twin in production.
There are many types of digital twins and advantages that they bring but there is no better way to gauge the possibilities for digital twin application, than looking at some real life examples.
1. Facility Management: NASA’s Langley Research Center
Probably known as one of the most shining examples of a facility management digital twin is NASA’s 764-acre campus in Virginia. It’s not only the size of the area covered that’s impressive, but also the amount of detail available through the digital twin.
The 3D models of all the buildings enable the team to make decisions on office space allocation, optimal seating arrangements for the personnel, security and more. Although, at the moment it may seem as an excessive undertaking for most organisations, it’s becoming an increasing reality for campuses and large manufacturing plants.
The Langley digital twin also helps to play out disaster and possibly hazardous scenarios within the research centre and put in place protections before the situations play out in real life, such as lowering the impact of a flood on the facility.
2. Manufacturing: Siemens Electronic Works Chengdu
At the Siemens Electronic Works Chengdu (SEWC), production is recorded, monitored, analysed and optimised only by digital means. Main focus of the production digital twin is on the processing and analysis of large amounts of process data and ensuring production efficiency and product quality based on the information.
The level of automation in the production of electronic components in the plant has led to a process quality rating of 99.99% and a decrease in the amount of errors as well as a reduction of waste within production. The same principle is then copied to other Siemens plants across the world.
Such solutions that enable enhanced performance based on the human and AI co-operation are set to surpass all other types of AI initiatives within the next 30 years. Therefore, although SEWC’s digital twin has been around for years now, similar solutions are only gaining momentum within the manufacturing industry.
3. Smart Cities: Singapore
Similarly to the facility management example of NASA’s Langley, Singapore’s smart city solutions provide 3D modelling, security and disaster scenario prediction and development planning, just at a much larger scale. Singapore’s solution also comes at a price point of $73 million.
While Singapore was the first to realise its smart city ambitions, it has inspired many more. Newcastle,Rotterdam, Boston, New York, Singapore, Stockholm, Helsinki, Jaipur, and Amaravati having their own digital twins already in place and by 2025 the number of smart cities is set to reach 500. Soon the conversation won’t be about individual cities anymore, but whole connected regions.
4. Logistics: JD.com
When it comes to logistics and automated warehouses, the race has been on since 2018 with JD.com, Amazon and multiple other companies competing to be first to fully automate their warehouses. In the example of JD.com, they have a 40 000 square meter facility in China, that would usually require over 400 employees to operate. After deploying robots they only need 5 people to do maintenance work on the robots.
Amazon was developing a similar system at the same time and soon followed with the news of deploying robots to run the 125 000 square meter fulfilment centre in Denver. After which it was Ocado in the UK with their fulfilment centre automation.
Although digital twin technology has been gaining momentum in warehouses, companies have struggled to create logistics digital twins outside of them until now. In that regard, there will be interesting times ahead to see how other supply chain verticals will be fully automated.
5. Healthcare: The Living Heart Project
The Living Heart Project is the use of digital twin technology for cardiovascular research. While most digital twins are digital copies of an exact object or process then in this case the default model can be customised to a particular patient based on their medical data. The project has already helped in the prediction of drug-induced arrhythmia.
There’s currently no digital twins of a whole human body but based on the research and digital twin applications developed to date, such as Arterial Tree Twin and the Blue Brain Project, it’s safe to say that we are well on our way to achieving this one day.
Looking at the current applications of digital twins, we have only scratched the surface of the possible applications. It is estimated that the global digital twin market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 58%, from today’s market size of $3.1 billion to $48,2 billion by 2026.One can just imagine, what that will mean in terms of the new solutions that it will bring.
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