Digital Twins Simplified

DigitalIntelligence

Digital Twins will change our lives. Things will be different in the near future. If you are tech-savvy and an entrepreneur, you most probably considered taking advantage of it for your business. If you are curious, this story is for you to learn about this exciting technology construct.

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Probably you read about this term "Digital Twins" a lot on newspapers, social media, and hear on the TV news.
As Madam Curie says, there is nothing to be feared in this life but to be understood.

This is one of the fastest developing technology and design construct.

It is something important that we all need to know about.

It is in fact our future.

Digital Twins is a concept, a design construct, and part of emerging technology stacks.

It is common in various industries such as manufacturing.

My purpose is, by using simple terms, to give an overview and shed lights on this emerging technology, architectural construct, and business initiative based on my experience.

Digital Twin concept is simple; however manifesting them, in reality, can be complicated and difficult to due to a combination of underlying technology stacks, tools, and integration requirements. Therefore, a structured and methodical approach to the topic is essential.

At the highest level, a Digital Twin (DT) is a design and architectural construct which is enabled by a combination of technology streams such as:

  • IoT (Internet of Things),
  • Cloud Computing,
  • Edge Computing,
  • Fog Computing,
  • Artificial Intelligence,
  • Robotics,
  • Machine Learning, and
  • Big Data Analytics.
Even though the term digital twin was coined in 2002, by Michael Grieves in the University of Michigan, this technology architecture was used by NASA in the Apollo 13 program in the 1970s to create identical space vehicles, one in space and one on earth.

But we lacked the underlying technology capabilities on those days because we had no Cloud, no ML, no IoT, no Big Data.

With limited capabilities, this approach enabled the NASA engineers to manage the physical device using the virtual counterpart on the surface.

As you may have read, the famous book, Mirror Worlds by David Gelernter, popularized the concept in 1993.

The digital twin concept turned into reality thanks to rapidly growing and new technology stacks consist of capabilities such as Cloud, IoT, AI and Big Data.

When I look at Digital Twins in my solution design, I focus on three aspects:

  • the Cyber-Physical System architecture,
  • business use cases, and
  • value proposition.

Digital Twins (DT) nowadays are used in various industries, in large business organizations, and startup companies. Manufacturing industry embraced it for its compelling business proposition. There are many DT initiatives globally.

DT initiatives use the PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) method. PLM is implemented using various agile approaches integrated with propriety methods belong to business organizations. The method is supported by Design Thinking workshops during the conceptual stage. You can find more on Design Thinking in the attached article published on News Break.

To add clarity, let me give you a high-level architectural overview of the DT concept. Understanding the architecture of the concept can help you visualise it better and help you digest the content you will be reading about it in the future.

The Architecture of Digital Twin Concept

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In DT concept, each physical object has its virtual counterpart.

These virtual counterparts are called virtual mirror models. These virtual mirror models have built-in capabilities to analyze, evaluate, predict, and monitor the physical objects.

This innovative architecture of DT concept creates a powerful communication mechanism between the physical (material) and the virtual world by using data.

In DT architecture, physical and virtual components integrate synchronously to create a close loop.

Digital twin initiatives are the practical implementation of Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) architecture in engineering and computer science domains. To understand the technical aspect of the digital twins, we need to know the CPS architecture.

In a nutshell, CPS is a technical construct converging physical and virtual domains. The core architecture of CPS is to embed communication and computing capacity into physical objects so that physical objects can be coordinated, controlled, and monitored via virtual means.

CPS integrates physical processes, computing, and networking as a single entity called embedded object. We can use embedded objects in various devices and appliances. The prime examples are medical devices, scientific instruments, toys, cars, fitness clothes, and other wearables.

CPS requires architectural abstraction and modelling. Based on the models, we can develop designs leveraging computation power, data, and application integration for monitoring of physical phenomena such as heat, humidity, motion, and velocity.

CPS can leverage IoT (Internet of Things) technology stack. CPS can be part of the IoT ecosystem in global IoT service providers.

Scalability and capacity of the embedded objects are critical. You can read more about the architectural implications of scalability and capacity of IoT devices from this article.

The primary use case for DT is asset performance, utilization, and optimization. DT enables monitoring, diagnosing, and prognostics capabilities for this use case. For example, DT can be used to optimize cars, locomotives, and jet engines. This use case can improve productivity and customer satisfaction.

DT can be ideal for creating 3D modelling of the digital objects from the physical objects. This use case is a critical success factor for smart manufacturing initiatives.

DT is commonly used for identifying symptoms with constant monitoring and finding the root causes of production issues in factories. The business value for this use case is to improve productivity.

Healthcare projects commonly use DT for simulation purposes. For example, doctors practice risky operations in simulated environments before attempting them in patients. This approach addresses safety concerns.

Town planners use DT initiatives by using virtual models to improve the city conditions in a proactive manner. This approach can reduce the complexity and simplify the processes for planners.

In Enterprise Architecture initiatives, we use DT as an architectural blueprint of the business organization. This helps us articulate the big picture to our business stakeholders.

As a stream of the hyper-automation concept in the IT industry, we use DT as part of the Robotics Process Automation (RPA) initiatives. I will explain RPA in my next post.

Conclusions

A Digital Twins construct is a reality now. It passed the concept phase. Even though Digital Twins is seen as an emerging technology, it is widely used in various industries such as manufacturing, automotive, healthcare, and smart cities.

There is a growing interest in the use of this technology globally. For example, in Australia, the NSW government launched a massive DT initiative recently. The initiative includes a virtual environment of more than half a million buildings.

Understanding the underlying technology stacks is critical for architecting and designing digital twin solutions.

To this end, the key technology considerations are IoT, Cloud, Edge, Fog, AI, ML, Robotics, and Big Data Analytics. To inform my readers, I plan to post articles related to these technology domains.

Related to Digital Twins, I published several articles on News Break which can provide you with background information and supplement your learning. My aim is to simplify technology and make digestible by everyone.

I Solve The Mystery of IoT and Explain It In Plain Language

How To Deal With Big Data For Artificial Intelligence?

How To Be An Ethical Hacker?

My View Of Blockchain Is Different Because I Design It.

Power of Design Thinking for Content Developers

Thank you for reading my perspectives.

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I write about important and valuable life lessons. My ultimate goal is to delight my readers. My content aims to inform and engage my readers. Truth, diversity, collaboration, and inclusiveness are my core values. I am a pragmatic technologist, scientist, postdoctoral academic and industry researcher focusing on practical and important life matters for the last four decades.

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