By Lachlan Colquhoun
Professor Joe Mathew was very excited when he saw a digital twin of the republic of Singapore when he was at a conference earlier this year.
After a long career in academia, Mathew is a mechanical engineer who is now head of the Asset Institute. This Australian research organization is shaping the evolving discipline of asset management.
This is where engineering intersects with accounting and accounting standards to create new frameworks for the optimal management of assets — usually public assets — to deliver the best service to stakeholders for the most cost-effective price.
Mathew has been working in this area for several decades. He now sees it evolving even further as it plugs into data with new analytic tools, often using data from remote sensing and potentially the Internet of Things.
“It started as a preventative regime, then became a predictive regime, and now it’s a prescriptive regime,” says Mathew.
“And now we are bringing in more and more data, and data-driven decision making has increasingly become the norm.”
This includes predictive analytics and dashboarding systems and the digital twin concept, where variables can be applied to a digital version of an asset to see how it might perform.
More than a copy
The Singapore digital twin was created around 2014. It is much more than a 3D representation of the city-state, and the reason for that is that it can now change with the use of real-time data.
“It is supposed to replicate the transport network and the buildings, build some smarts around that, and the next phase is to bring in data to the visualization model and run maintenance programs on those,” says Mathew.
The emerging field of IoT and remote sensing uses low orbiting satellites, which can use data to improve asset management.
Digital Twin platform is also becoming useful in manufacturing, where companies use 3D models of the factory and all its components — including people — as a precursor to building the physical factory.
Once that is created, sensors are also installed, which connect back to the digital twin in real-time so that the twin mirrors the condition and activity of the factory as it changes.
There is a National Digital Twin Program underway in the U.K., which describes itself as “an ecosystem of connected digital twins to foster better outcomes from our built environment.”
Echoing Professor Mathew in the world of asset management, one of the goals is to deliver an Information Management Framework which can “ensure secure, resilient data sharing and effective information management.”
The program identifies a range of benefits to society, business, the environment, and the broader economy.
Socially, it sees better outcomes from public programs and improved satisfaction through higher-performing infrastructure.
Businesses can find new markets, services, and business models and improve efficiency, while the environment can benefit from less disruption and waste. In the macro-economic picture, it can drive increased productivity and improve the measurement of outcomes.
Momentum builds with collaboration
That is the bigger picture, but several projects have already kicked off under the program.
Three major utility providers — Anglian Water, BT, and UK Power Networks — have announced a collaboration to work on a Climate Resilience Demonstrator to be previewed at the COP26 Summit in November.
The plan is to develop a digital twin across energy, water, and telecoms networks to provide a practical example of how connected data can improve climate adaptation and resilience.
Also, in the U.K., a GBP500,000 digital testbed was announced by collaborators Queen’s University in Belfast, BT, and Cisco to create a 5G digital factory testbed.
Here, the idea is to create a facility for local industries to collaborate and explore the benefits of 5G connectivity and improve their manufacturing operations.
Another application for digital twin modeling is in defense, which is already using virtualization and simulation to train and test.
Only last week in Australia, for example, consultants McKinsey & Company won an AUD10 million contract for a digital twin project which will assist in the future structuring of the Australian Army.
The digital twin architecture is expected to assist the army in identifying investment areas and provide evidence for the investments, with a proof of concept expected to be completed by March next year.
Meanwhile, in Russia, defense contractors have been using a digital twin of a tank shell to simulate the projectile's movement in the tank's gun barrel, follow its flight trajectory to the target, and understand its armor-piercing characteristics.
The next standard?
A digital twin platform opens the idea of a mirrored and virtual world where inputs from the real world can test the outcome of change and inform planning and policy in the physical world.
Perhaps except for tank shells, digital twin use cases hold the promise of beneficial outcomes for people and the planet.
The adoption of digital twin architecture is spreading widely into areas such as autonomous vehicles and just-in-time supply chain management.
Soon, it will be a standard procedure for many organizations as they look to improve performance and drive efficiency while also saving on cost.
Those who can but neglect the use of this technology could soon find themselves falling behind, as others use it to improve their performance as they seek to build a competitive advantage.
Lachlan Colquhoun is the Australia and New Zealand correspondent for CDOTrends and DigitalWorkforceTrends, and the editor of NextGen Connectivity. His fascination is with how businesses are reinventing themselves through digital technology and collaborate with others to become completely new organizations. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.