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Digital Twins: Bridging the Gap Between Physical and Digital

26 Aug 2021

How would it sound if you were able to create ‘what-if’ scenarios and simulate environments, allowing you to predict and test what may happen in particular situations, without taking a risk? That’s precisely the power that a digital twin provides, a technology that is being rapidly adopted across a multitude of industries. Here we look at how digital twin technology works, and the way in which it is making digital transformation a very real possibility for organisations of every size, in any sector.

What is a digital twin?

Smart spaces digital twin climate control

A digital twin is an exact replica of something in the physical world. They are used for an array of reasons, such as enhancing operations, training, new product or process testing and predictive planning. Using Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, digital twins gather data from the physical world and feed it into machines to reconstruct on a digital plain.

Digital twins provide powerful insights. From boosting efficiency, reducing energy usage and lowering costs to predicting the lifespan of a product or component part under particular conditions, this technology provides a safe way of pursuing ‘what if’ scenarios. Once a digital twin has presented its valuable findings, it is a simple case of applying them to the original system in the physical domain, with a great deal less risk, and enhanced return on investment.

Considering the vast expanse of possibilities presented by digital twins, it is easy to see how the potential for this technology is pretty much limitless. It is no wonder then that the innovation appeared on Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2017 and 2018.

The digital twins market was worth almost $4 billion in 2019 and is predicted to reach almost $36 billion by 2025. This huge growth is thanks in part to fast evolving modelling and simulation capabilities and more powerful IoT sensors, and has led to the technology becoming increasingly accessible to organisations of all sizes across a variety of sectors. In other words, it is no longer restricted to multinational corporations.

How does digital twin technology work?

A digital twin can be a virtual replica of any physical object. This could be a building or workspace, an aeroplane engine, a spaceship, a wind turbine or even an organ of the body. It could even be an entire city. Digital twins can also mimic processes as well as physical assets.

A computer program that uses real world data to simulate how a product or a process will perform is a good way of describing a digital twin. The program integrates IoT data with artificial intelligence, machine learning and analytics to create a powerful output of data which can be used to make informed decisions, with reduced risk, time and cost, and significantly greater levels of success.

In summary, the creation of a digital twin can pave the way to prevent costly failures in physical objects, as well as test processes and services by using advanced predictive, monitoring and analytical data.

What challenges can a digital twin solve?

Digital transformation and the likes of IoT, automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence are now well known for their benefits in simplifying procedures and delivering a host of valuable information in the shape of big data, which can be drilled down to aid and bring increased accuracy to decision making processes. However, to successfully implement these facets into existing processes can be something of a challenge. A challenge which could, in reality, make demands on a business that are simply impossible.

A digital twin, however, presents the perfect solution to bridging what has traditionally proved to be a gap between physical and digital. A gap that only organisations of a certain size and standing could overcome. It offers a way of implementing digital transformation, and making all its many benefits accessible to a far wider audience.

Because digital twins are able to visualise inputted data in real time, and in a simplified way, the technology can be used in a huge variety of scenarios, and across all sorts of industry sectors.

As a three-dimensional version of its real life counterpart, the digital twin provides a safe testing environment. So, rather than investing considerable time and expertise into analysing complex data, which remains open to human misinterpretation, and then implementing changes in a live playing field where the risk of failure is very real, the digital twin takes that data and replicates it into an easy to fathom model. Now potential scenarios can be introduced and changes trialled and monitored to ensure success before live implementation.

How can digital twins benefit business?

digital twin desk booking

Digital twins are being used globally in a vast array of situations. They are helping to optimise supply chains, from the logistics and fulfilment aspects right down to individual worker performance. The technology is also being used to help address congestion and get the most out of urban planning in city scenarios. It has even been used to aid surgeons operating on major organs of the body.

Organisations involved in the sale of ‘as-a-service’ commodities are embracing digital twin technology. Connecting a digital twin to IoT sensors makes it possible to better refine and optimise projections and pricing through enhanced financial analysis. This means a more streamlined service for the end user, and greater upselling opportunities for the service provider. For example, by monitoring wear and tear in specific scenarios recreated in the digital realm, additional warranty or maintenance options could be offered where relevant, with proof of their need.

By providing a virtual model of a physical asset, digital twins can benefit business operations in many ways. From analysing root causes to making intelligent recommendations, and from allowing fine tuning to delivering the insight required for predictive maintenance, the technology provides exceptional clarity on the past, present and future performance of an asset or process, together with recommendations on how to achieve better outcomes.

So much more than just a 3D mock-up of the physical realm, a digital twin makes it possible to deeply analyse data, workflows and human behaviours in real time, allowing immediate action to be taken to optimise performance and avert costly issues.

How can digital twins benefit the smart building?

A smart building that makes use of sensors, meters and monitors to provide insights that can be used to enhance the building’s operations aspects and improve its indoor environment, can benefit greatly from the use of digital twins.

Safety, comfort and efficiency all stand to improve through smart building technology. But when a digital twin is introduced, the advantages ramp up considerably.

A digital twin makes it possible to see how a building’s individual systems interact with each other and the building in general, something that up until recently involved a long and drawn out manual process. The digital twin takes individual systems, bringing them together so that they all intercommunicate.

For the facilities manager, especially those with multiple buildings to manage, the digital twin proves a highly valuable tool. Not only does the technology present a wealth of information channelled in from the various IoT sensors, it also integrates two-way interactions from outside in the real world.

Here are just some of the many benefits of a digital twin in the smart building environment:

  • Streamlining everyday operations = improved productivity and efficiency
  • Real-time asset management and predictive maintenance = more accurate decision-making, cost savings and downtime aversion
  • Remote control over building systems (e.g. lighting, HVAC, etc.) in one single platform = improved costs and energy efficiency management and a better working environment
  • Indoor air quality monitoring = enhanced working environment
  • Real-time asset and people tracking = better safety and security control
  • Centralised and automated workspace bookings = improved visitor and employee experience and greater space management control

How Smart Spaces uses digital twins to further enhance the smart building experience

Digital twins, in general, offer a host of benefits. But the Smart Spaces Digital Twin 2.0 takes the advantages even further.

The difference with Smart Spaces Digital Twin 2.0 is that it creates a live replica of the building which doesn’t only read the data, but also lets the user write it too. This is an active digital twin rather than a static representation of a single point in time. This means that property managers can take what they are seeing, and implement changes instantly.

With the Smart Spaces digital twin, day to day management, periodic maintenance and general smart building monitoring are all streamlined, allowing property and facilities managers to be more efficient, to make better judged decisions, and to achieve objectives safely by first testing potential solutions in a risk-free environment.

To learn more about how the Smart Spaces Digital Twin can benefit your business, you are welcome to request a free demo or get in touch.

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