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From concept to reality: Tracing the evolution of digital twin technology

In the landscape of technological innovation, a concept has emerged that promises to revolutionise the way we perceive and interact with the physical world around us - ‘digital twins’. A paradigm-shifting concept that brings the virtual and the tangible into an unprecedented synchrony. At its core, a digital twin stands as a real-time, and sometimes nearly real-time, virtual embodiment of a physical entity, whether it be an asset, a complex system, or a multifaceted process existing within the tangible realm.

Harnessing the power of digital twins propels companies towards an era of heightened efficiency. Organisations can unlock a deeper comprehension of their processes, equipment, and product data. The implications are profound - a seismic shift in operations, a tangible enhancement of efficiency, and a substantial boost in profitability.

Welcome to the realm of digital twins - where the convergence of the virtual and the tangible heralds a new age of insight, optimisation and transformation.

Understanding the technology: what is a digital twin?

In essence, a digital twin is a virtual copy of a real object, system, or process. It helps understand, monitor, and optimise real-world things by using digital models and data.

What truly sets a digital twin apart from a 3D model lies in its comprehensive definition and key components, centred around the notion of a virtual representation of a physical entity. The significance of real-time data synchronisation further highlights its distinction.

The evolution of technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Machine Learning (ML) has propelled digital twin capabilities beyond mere static simulations. Today, digital twins extend initial designs and implementations, providing dynamic insights into real-time operations, historical contexts, and even predictive simulations of the future.

Digital twins encompass diverse concepts, ranging from comprehensive 3D models replicating physical reality to dashboards presenting data and interpretations tailored to specific user needs. To maintain an accurate portrayal of intricate processes or products, an ongoing influx of rich data remains pivotal.

Digital twins and real-time data

The synergy between digital twins and real-time data transformationally empowers businesses by converting simulations into actional tools, amplifying productivity, optimisation, and productivity. To effectively fulfil their potential, digital twins require three integral elements:

The essence of a digital twin resides in its capacity to emulate both the physical attributes and behaviours of the entity it represents. Noteworthy characteristics include:

Rise of the digital twin

Real-time data integrates with AI platforms, bridging the gap between the digital twin and the data. This amalgamation provides intelligent insights, granting managers remote real-time visibility and enabling process optimisation. The implementation of AI-driven digital twin facilitates a profound comprehension of operations, empowering businesses to optimise their supply chains, refine sourcing strategies, and enhance overall efficiency.

Evolution of digital twins and its impact on companies

The concept of the digital twin, although it might seem innovative, has roots dating back to ancient times. The earliest known instance can be traced back to 3000-6000 BC when models of structures were created by the Trypillian culture in what is now Ukraine.

In the modern ear, the representation of physical objects digitally began with the advent of computers in the 1950s. This concept evolved with the progression of mathematical models into Computer-aided Design (CAD) in the 1960s. Notably, General Motors partnered with IBM during this time to develop DAC-1 (Design Augmented by Computer), a technology that accelerated car production processes through computer-aided visualisation.

In the 1991 publication ‘The IRM Imperative’ by James M. Kerr, the idea of valuing an organisation’s data resources and treating them as assets gained popularity. This paved the way for the development of subject-area databases and data warehouses into information decision-making.

Fast-forward to 2002, when Michael Grieves introduced the modern concept of the ‘digital twin’. He is often referred to as the pioneer of digital twins. In 2018, Dassault Systemes, a European software company, completed the construction of a digital twin for Singapores’ 3DEXPERIENCity. This innovation facilitated cross-sector collaboration and the creation of tools for testing ideas and services.

Over the past decade, the construction industry has been actively working on digital twins to enhance construction cycles. Data collected, visualised and analysed through digital twins can drive informed decisions at various stages of a building’s life cycle, from design to maintenance. For instance, data simulations can optimise construction site scheduling effectively.

Industry transformation enabled by digital twins

The emergence of digital twins has led a new era of industrial transformation, reshaping the way businesses operate and innovate. This technological innovation has empowered industries across the spectrum by offering a multitude of benefits. It revolutionises product design and prototyping, enabling companies to iterate and optimise designs virtually, thus expediting development timelines and reducing costs.

The potential is equally compelling in asset monitoring, where real-time virtual replicas provide unparalleled visibility into physical assets’ conditions and performance.

Predictive maintenance becomes a reality, minimising downtime and ensuring seamless operations by leveraging insights from digital twin simulation. Moreover, the power of digital twins lies in their capacity to enhance decision-making through sophisticated simulation and scenario testing, enabling businesses to anticipate outcomes, mitigate risks, and optimise strategies.

In summary, digital twins stand as the cornerstone of a transformative wave, redefining industries through their ability to revolutionise product innovation, asset management, maintenance practices and strategic decision-making.

Want to know more about warehouses and digital twin? Get your copy of our guide on 'A digital twin future for warehouse

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This company has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement number 849938