Digital twins, engineering future of automation

Rapid growth of data collection make rapid expansion of digital twins more likely to add automation, supply chain efficiencies and optimization.

By Stone Shi September 7, 2019

Many enterprises today are talking about the concept of “digital twins.” Among them, the enterprises engaged in digital solutions such as product lifecycle management (PLM) tend to be the leaders and extend it into automation. Some people even say digital twins are an indispensable form of technology for Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) applications. In addition to the value everyone delights in talking about, what is the extended value of digital twins?

Value from digital twins

Digital twins can enable the mass data flow brought by the IIoT in the future to remain efficient, orderly and secure in the process of integration, exchange and transfer. Admittedly, in the IIoT era, with the further popularization of low-energy consumption micro-sensor, 5G and other applications, people will be able to collect many kinds of physical data in real time. Economic efficiency and simulation of building the digital world also will be improved.

But such progress does not mean that there is no need to consider cost, bandwidth and orderliness for Big Data transmission in IIoT era. Previously, in many depictions of the IIoT future, people tend to assume data will be freely and directly exchanged between two or more objects. However, in a real and specific application scenario, it is more likely these data exchanges will take place between the “twins” of these objects in the digital world or among various information platforms, without the need for “direct dialogue.”

Application examples

Automobile enterprise service departments and even traffic management departments need to retrieve relevant data of a vehicle for their respective needs, it’s not hard to imagine they won’t need to call data directly from a vehicle sensor each time, but just need to read the specified data from the digital twin, which represents an accurate state of the real vehicle.

This greatly reduces the repeated collection and transmission of data, thus reducing burdens to the system and protocol, as well as cost.

Substantial transformation

Extending this scenario to industrial situations with larger data volume, improvements will be substantial. Taking digital twins as the only interface for the exchange of data between real commodities, equipment, production lines and the outside world is also conducive to the effective setting and management of the access to data reading and application.

Even today, digital twins is a concept mainly restricted to specialized fields. In the IIoT era, when Big Data is on the explosive increase, use of digital twins expand beyond management personnel and technical professionals. With a more user-friendly and customizable interface, it will transform the mode that goods, equipment and projects are delivered and served by enabling ordinary users to enjoy value from it.

Dual delivery: physical, digital

In the future, from ordinary consumers to professional industry users, extra value from data collection and analysis will be more important than just focusing on physical-world deliverables. Dual delivery in the physical and digital worlds will become a normal state, allowing users to develop limitless potential of the easy-to-operate and easy-to-extend digital twins. Combined with the development of assistive technologies such as augmented reality (AR), such potential will be doubled and redoubled.

For professional users, this means they can organize synergies and optimize business processes and production processes more quickly. For ordinary consumers, they can obtain diversified functions and experience from digital twins. Even if consumers don’t have to operate digital twins directly, this change also is expected to improve after-sales service and other aspects.

Let us expect these scenarios to become reality as soon as possible.

Stone Shi is executive editor-in-chief, Control Engineering China. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media,

KEYWORDS: Future of digital twin, digitalization, Big Data

Accelerated use of digital twins seems like as more data is collected in the product lifecycle.

Industrial benefits for digital twins will be driven by optimization potential.

Delivery of physical and digital products will become common.


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Author Bio: Executive editor-in-chief, Control Engineering China