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An Introduction to Digital Twins

A digital twin is a concept that originated in 2002, however the first practical definition came about in 2010 from NASA. Many broad definitions of digital twins can be found across the internet:

  • ‘A digital twin is a virtual representation that serves as the real-time digital counterpart of a physical object or process’ – Google
  • ‘A digital twin is a virtual model designed to accurately reflect a physical object’ – IBM

In short, digital twins can be summarised as the digital representation of physical or non physical processes. Digital twins are seen as a natural progression from hand-drawn products to computer-aided design to model-based engineering.

There are two key elements of a digital twin: A dynamic simulation model and data that reflects the current state of a live system. By using the model and the data it is possible to build powerful digital twin software for experimentation, analysis and communication.

Here is a very informative article from AnyLogic that delves deeper into the world of digital twins. This article contains an easy to understand example of a digital twin using an aeroplane.

How it works: Sensors on the aeroplane will send information to two points, user input – an actual human – and a database where the information is collected. This part denotes the ‘physical’ aspect of a digital twin. For the ‘virtual’ side of things a model would be created, perhaps in software such as anylogic, and this model would feed information back to a database. The physical and virtual then combine and come together to create what’s known as a digital twin.

So why use a digital twin?

  •  Increased reliability of equipment and production lines
  • Improved productivity
  • Reduced risk in certain areas – product availability, marketplace reputation

“Using a digital twin enhances insight and understanding of how your systems work and interact, helping evaluate parameters and interdependencies. As a virtual environment, a digital twin also allows low cost and no-risk possibilities for experimentation.” -AnyLogic

Projects involving digital twins

Here are a handful of projects where using a digital twin can be very beneficial:

 Buildings, bridges and other complex structures – these are physically large structures that can be limited by the strict rules of engineering

  • Jet turbines, automobiles and aircrafts – mechanically complex machines that can use digital twins to help improve efficiency in their engines
  • Power equipment – mechanisms for generating power and transmitting it
  • Manufacturing equipment – digital twins are excellent at helping to streamline efficiency in processes

It is worthwhile to remember that not every object or item is complex enough to need a digital twin. Sometimes, from a financial viewpoint, it is not always wise to invest thousands or even millions into a digital twin for an object that does not require. The examples above however are instances when use of a digital twin can be very useful.

Digital Twins vs Simulations

Simulation: A digital model that imitates the operations and processes within a system.

Digital twin: Digital representation of physical or non physical processes

There are many differences between digital twins and simulations.

The main differences can be summarised as:

  •  A simulation studies one particular process while a digital twin itself can run a number of simulations in order to study multiple processes.
  • Simulations do not usually benefit from having real-time data whereas digital twins are designed around a two-way flow of information that occurs when an object’s sensors provide relevant data to the system processor and then happens again when insights created by the processor are shared back with the original source object.
  • Enhanced product design – simulations can analyse thousands of variables, including types of materials, but digital twins can do more. Digital twins can simulate parts of vehicles, e.g an aircraft, and see how different materials will fare throughout the lifecycle of the aircraft

“By having better and constantly updated data related to a wide range of areas, combined with the added computing power that accompanies a virtual environment, digital twins are able to study more issues from far more vantage points than standard simulations can — with greater ultimate potential to improve products and processes.” -IBM

How AnyLogic factors into it

AnyLogic is a powerful tool for creating and integrating a digital twin. It has:

  •  Proven application in a variety of industries – it is the main simulation tool for many successful companies. As these companies are familiar with AnyLogic, it makes it easier for people to develop digital twins for them
  • Multi-method modelling – combining agent-based, discrete event and systems dynamic modelling for a general-purpose is a unique feature of AnyLogic and it utilised by many companies across the world. Multi-method modelling on AnyLogic means systems can be modelled efficiently without compromise.
  • Other reasons include: Use of AnyLogic Cloud, open API and programming capability as well as ease of use.

For further information on digital twins, here are some articles and papers that go delve deeper into digital twins:

Paper going through an example of a digital twin which in this case is a bending beam:

A literature review on digital twins: Paper on how digital twins can be used for production and design engineering

A literature review on digital twins