What Is a Digital Twin?

What Is a Digital Twin?

A digital twin is a detailed virtual replica of a physical or digital object or system. A digital twin is similar to a design file but also incorporates real-world, real-time changes based on direct observation and feedback from the object itself, typically via sensors or internet of things (IoT) devices. Digital twins can be created for buildings, machines, or offshore drilling platforms—even for reconstructing the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris or solving the technological challenges of the NASA Mars rover.

How do digital twins work?

Digital twin software creates a virtual model of the system to be twinned and presents it as a visual representation, which might be anything from a 2D diagram, to a video feed, to virtual reality that’s experienced through a headset.

Unlike many models, a digital twin model is not static. Using embedded sensors and cameras, among other devices, the model sets up data streams from the system itself or associated external systems, delivering information about current conditions or operational metrics. As it incorporates these data streams, the digital twin can reflect the system in real time. With the help of data management and processing, the digital twin can alert stakeholders to changes, predict upcoming events, and provide a high-level view of the health of the system.

In addition to mirroring ongoing processes, a digital twin brings all data, both archival and contextual, about its physical twin into one place. The digital twin will store in-depth metadata about each physical object in use, even down to individual machine parts. For example, a digital twin of an office building can include service records about the building’s HVAC system.

This kind of digital twin can be made up of a hierarchy of smaller digital twins that serve as building blocks. A digital twin of a factory, for example, might also contain twins of various secondary processes, every piece of equipment in use, and even personnel on duty. The factory digital twin could itself be part of a larger digital twin of a company’s manufacturing sites or its entire enterprise.

Organisations that own or operate complex assets like office buildings and transportation systems need ways to improve operations, reduce costs, and deliver more competitive products. With high-speed computer networks, advanced data processing, and especially IoT technology, digital twins can incorporate more data and produce insights faster than ever.

What can you do with a digital twin?

There are an infinite number of purposes for digital twins, but a short list of uses includes:

  • Using the platform to prototype and design
  • Monitoring and troubleshooting systems
  • Testing systems
  • Using data analysis to optimise processes
  • Training new hires or existing workforce
  • Creating virtual reality environments
  • Designating a digital twin to be a single source of truth

Where are digital twins having an impact?

  • Architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industries: As an outgrowth of computer-aided design and building information modeling (BIM), asset owners and managers in AEC benefit by creating detailed digital twins of buildings and systems. These digital twins help keep large, complex building projects operating on time and on budget.
  • Logistics: Digital twins can provide the high-level view needed to manage the complex mix of interdependent systems and unpredictable external factors for a port or shipping facility.
  • Manufacturing: Digital twins are widely found in manufacturing, where they’re used to monitor and operate systems, track fabrication processes, and analyse performance.
  • Smart cities: Cities worldwide, including Singapore and London, are modeling their entire metropolitan areas using digital twins, which can be used to observe traffic patterns, analyse growth, map public health, and predict the effects of planning decisions.

Challenges in building and managing digital twins

Widely available IoT technology is bringing the benefits of digital twins to more industries and use cases, but technological, logistical, and even legal challenges remain:

  • Data management: Digital twins run on data—the more the better—but it can be challenging to make sure it all gets sent to the right places without redundancy and that bottlenecks don’t form.
  • IT and network architecture: A successful digital twin requires a network, perhaps a combination of networks, that can handle the data loads and use patterns of IoT devices. Digital twins may also require edge computing to reduce latency and optimise network performance.
  • Intellectual property: The breadth and detail of data needed for rich digital twins make it inevitable that there will be conflicts in terms of access to sensitive company data. Perhaps, with the possibility of reciprocal sharing, companies will come to agreements as to how this valued data can be safely shared among multiple asset owners and managers.

Why FlashBlade is the perfect solution data storage solution for digital twins

The use of digital twins may not be new, but many of its applications are—including future-facing smart city projects and modern data security architectures. Pure FlashBlade® is the industry's most advanced all-flash storage solution for consolidating fast file and object data. With a scale-out metadata architecture that can handle tens of billions of files and objects with maximum performance, FlashBlade is the perfect platform for data rich services such as digital twins. Check out FlashBlade today!

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