Last October, Gartner released their Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2017. Fifth on the list: digital twins. The concept has been around for quite some time, but it’s only recently picked up traction with the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT). So, what are digital twins? And why are companies so excited about them? From cost savings and preventative maintenance to personalized health care treatment—digital twins are the bridge between the digital and physical world. The following is a basic primer to digital twins and what they can do for your business.
What is a Digital Twin?
According to GE, digital twins are “the combination of data and intelligence that represent the structure, context, and behavior of a physical system of any type, offering an interface that allows one to understand past and present operation, and make predictions about the future.” Yes, that’s a mouthful. In more basic terms, digital twins are more than models—they’re living models that change with the current environment in real time to help companies—and people—monitor, test, treat, and maintain any number of systems.
For instance, NASA uses digital twins to model missions that would be literally impossible to monitor in real time in the physical world. By using digital twins of its space stations and spacecraft, it can make sure systems are running effectively and keep crews safe. Another example: GE is using digital twins to make its wind farms 20 percent more efficient. You can see how they work here to get a sense of how effective—and easy—digital twins can be in improving business outcomes for any number of industries.
How Does the IoT Fit In?
In many ways, the IoT is the missing link that makes accurate digital twins a reality. Gartner predicts billions of things will have digital twins in the next three to five years, largely because of the number of mechanisms that will be able to communicate data and knowledge via the IoT infrastructure. Now that billions of objects can be linked together—connecting data and knowledge in real time—models can be created that are true to life. In other words, they can now be trusted to truly model the physical reality they are trying to replicate.
Why Are They Helpful?
Digital modeling like computer-aided design (CAD) has long been used in industries like engineering, where it’s useful to design a house or building in digital form to see how it will function in certain conditions, and whether the design is safe and up to code for real life. But digital twins take that modeling to a whole new level, allowing engineers to test how the house is continuing to withstand the elements, and monitor which parts of the building may need to be replaced, or what safety issues might occur in the future—without ever visiting the house itself.
But the uses of digital twins extend far beyond the world of engineering and building. In the airplane or automobile industry, for instance, digital twins can help keep vehicles safe by monitoring which systems or parts need replaced and alerting relevant teams to make the change. In the retail sector, digital twins can be used for security or energy savings. In the military, they can be used to test and track the usability or effectiveness of weapons and vehicles. In the industrial world, they can be used to schedule preventative maintenance to ensure that companies don’t lost profits during “down times.” And in healthcare, human digital twins could actually be used to create personalized healthcare plants to anticipate and prevent disease in real time. Mind-blowing, right? But that’s not where the benefits end.
To me, one of the best benefits of digital twins is that they encourage collaboration across all entitles in an enterprise. They allow everyone to share the same data and make decisions that keep systems running smoothly. It’s no secret that silos don’t work well in the digital environment. Digital twins help knock those silos down by making data and knowledge available to everyone who needs it—in ways that empower them to keep the system and company moving forward.
If you aren’t currently using digital twins in your business, I encourage you to consider where they might improve efficiency within your company. The results could be huge cost savings—and better customer satisfaction—overall.
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This article was first published on Forbes.