Innovation Institute

Is the digital doppelganger just around the corner?

Imagine it is your responsibility to deliver a complex infrastructure project on time and on budget. It sounds a daunting task, but with a fully working digital model the project performance can be optimised and those insomnia-inducing targets can be met. The concept is called digital twinning, and it’s the next step on from 3D Modelling. Instead of a static model, new virtual models will provide a dynamic representation of physical and functional characteristics of the infrastructure project.

The digital twin includes cost structures, schedules and suppliers, along with spatial design parameters in 3-D. Details such as geometry, specifications, aesthetics, thermal, and acoustic properties will also be built into the digital twin to virtualise a fully functioning model of the infrastructure project. The use of Augmented and Virtual Reality, supports complex simulations and detailed views of the project from multiple perspectives and levels. This means each behaviour and facet of operation can be visualised and experimented on to ensure the sought-after performance is achieved before a single block of concrete is even laid.

The true power of the digital twin, however is when it’s physical twin starts to emerge. Through the embedding of sensors (RFIDs, barcodes) and other near field communication devices, construction machinery, equipment, materials, structures, formwork and even workers can be monitored, and live-data can be fed into the virtual representation. The digital twin interrogates the live data through its ‘artificial intelligence hub’ enabling it to predict scenarios and possible outcomes, and develop critical paths to best optimise performance throughout the life-cycle of the project. For example, the digital twin can describe and then analyse the graphical behaviour of a multi-tier supply chain and predict how the project could be affected - in terms of reduced reliability of assets and therefore increased cost - over its lifetime, if one of those Tier 2 suppliers were to change. It is the digital twin’s ability to tackle the behaviour of the unknown that makes it an ideal partner in large scale, big money projects such as smart cities, power generation plants and transportation.

In today's highly competitive business environment, organisations are looking intensively at innovations that will drive efficiency and reduce operational costs, but still effectively manage operational risk and maintain safety. A key area of focus is on the use of big data technology for information management and predictive analytics that can help organisations become 'data smart' in their operations. Use of such digital twinning predictive technology gives organisations a powerful platform to transition into and leverage the digital advantage; learn from interactions between digital and physical twins, and create new and effective business models.

Digital twining is a key driver in Industry 4.0 or the Industrial Internet, whereby a digital representation of the asset being manufactured e.g. a jet engine or wind turbine can be described throughout its product lifecycle.  The digital twin is at the centre of an eco-system of asset-centric engineering applications. It extends reach through cloud technologies, and brings expertise together providing powerful analysis, insight and diagnostics. Via Internet of Things technologies and historical data, the digital twin will also provide dynamic updates on condition and operational parameter states.

In the world of oil and gas, DNV GL is demonstrating its ability to combine unique connectivity and big data to create valuable digital twins of their rigs and vessels. Siemens Product Lifecycle Management system supports digital visualisation enabling collaborative engagement at all stages of a product’s lifecycle. GE’s Predix system brings together complex simulations, real-time data feeds from sensors in the physical operating environment and historical information to create a digital twin of a project or product that can constantly predict and respond in the physical world to ensure required output performance.

Of course, digital twinning won’t just give advantages in those large projects, digital twinning of the body, although in nascent form, promises to be one of the innovations that could revolutionise healthcare. In the future, simulated organs could change how medicine works, making it personal and less invasive. A medical scan of a broken elbow could become a 3-D model that doctors could use to diagnose and test treatments.

Finally, let’s consider the effect of digital twinning in education a few decades from now. Our Y-generation have already developed the ability to build upon the power of learning through parallel consumption, taking on board a myriad of content stimuli, increasing their knowledge through this interaction and internalising it.

Imagine that, from the moment you’re born, you have your digital twin. It learns to understand how you learn, delivering content in different formats and frequencies, in a way that supports your internalising of that knowledge.  In this way, digital twins can enhance the learning process in children, expanding creativity and eliminating the learning barriers currently faced by young Asperger’s and Autism sufferers.

As you grow, your digital twin would become less of a teacher and more a mentor, building knowledge in real-time, in a way that supports your synaptic operations and personal behaviour. Such a digital twin may even reduce the element of dementia, as you’ll be reminded of who you are, and memories and knowledge will stay fresh and current. A digital doppelgänger would be something you could rely on, enabling you to be the best you could be throughout your life.

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