Digital Twin – an extended version of as-maintained BoM that will crash PLM platforms?

Digital Twin – an extended version of as-maintained BoM that will crash PLM platforms?


IoT is a huge technological and marketing buzzword these days. IT is enabled by internet communication, broad adoption of sensors and new data management technologies. Although you can see “examples” of IoT technology appearance everyday in consumer and industrial implementation, it is sometimes very hard to see how does it fit existing product development environment and operations. One of the marketing buzzwords connected to IoT is digital twin – a digital representation of physical product.

An orphan Wikipedia article provides a vague definition of what is digital twin:

Digital twins is a way to use 3D modeling to create a digital companion for the physical object.[1][2][3] It can be used to view the status of the actual physical object, which provide a way to project physical objects into digital world. Usually sensors are installed on different positions of the physical object, and these sensors will collect data and feed it back to the 3d modelling software through Internet of Things. This technology falls into augmented reality category. The digital twin is usually identical to the physical object not only on shape but also on positioning, gesture, status and motion.

Some roots of Digital Twin early definitions are going back to 2003. You can read more about it in the whitepaper by Dr. Michael Grieves – Digital Twin: Manufacturing Excellence through Virtual Factory Replication.

The Digital Twin concept contains three main parts: a) physical products in Real Space, b) virtual products in Virtual Space, and c) the connections of data and information that ties the virtual and real products together. In the decade since this model was introduced, there have been tremendous increases in the amount, richness, and fidelity of information of both the physical and virtual products.

All PLM vendors are adopting “digital twin” lingo in their marketing messages. PTC made “digital twin” part of their marketing story at LiveWorx event earlier this year.

At the same time, you can see examples of digital twin marketing messages coming from Siemens PLM and Dassault Systemes too. Although earlier this week at Dassault 3DXForum in Boston, Dassault called it “virtual twin“. I’m not sure see the difference.

Going beyond marketing, you can find interesting information about IoT technologies practical usage by many industrial companies these days. I found few interesting examples in GE Report.

The discussion around IoT and digital twin made me think about how does it fit product development lifecycle and existing data structures from both sides – manufacturing companies and customers. I think I found how to match it. I captured it during yesterday think tank session at PI Congress in Boston –  Managing the Enterprise Bill of Material – A Case Study From Concept to Retirement by Capgemini. The following picture represents an ideal enterprise BoM information structure.


One of the elements in enterprise BoM information is so called “as-maintained” BoM represents the information about product instances delivered to customers. Usually it includes serial numbers and related information about specific product. It can also contain digital 3D information about real product and many additional elements of data. If you apply IoT thinking to that, you can think about connecting information coming from sensors and many other elements of data representing real product behavior.

What is my conclusion? IoT technologies are bringing new content into existing definition of “as-maintained” BoM such as information about how product behaves in a real life and how customers are using product. It is an interesting twist to what traditionally was considered as an information about products, parts and serial numbers. It can bring another problem – IoT data will blow up traditional PLM databases. So, the question about capabilities of existing PLM platforms to maintain the amount of information demanded by modern IoT technological landscape is the one we should pay attention to if IoT is on your roadmap. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Picture credit GE report.


Share This Post

  • Pingback: Beyond PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) Blog » PLM IoT platforms: complexity and data scale()

  • Pingback: PLM IoT platforms: complexity and data scale | Daily PLM Think Tank Blog()

  • NacNac

    Hello Oleg,
    I was at Stuttgart Messe last week for the PTC LiveWorx and saw their demonstration with the bike. Every interesting.

    Generally, smart product exist already for many years. My previous company started to develop them since 1998. It was first a data collector on the product that required the machine to be stopped so we could download the collected data into a laptop. Then the data was streamed so no need to stop the machine anymore . This was a big improvement as real time monitoring became possible.

    Now, the very interesting concept is to link back directly into the PDM/PLM that information to feed the design department and add value to their decision making process. This is an entirely new way. In addition, this can also improve customer service. As seen in the PTC video you posted, an end user could use a tablet and get all sort of maintenance information about the product at the right time without opening any think Instruction For Use or User Manuals.

    I think everybody agrees this is very powerful concept. For sure there are new sensors to be developed too to capture the appropriate data.

    Exciting time to come.

    Regarding the storage of the data. For such this is going to become the new CIO headaches 🙂

    Best regards

  • beyondplm

    Thanks for the comment! Indeed interesting time. You’re right about smart products. We’ve seen them before. However, now we have an opportunity to start connecting dots – between product in the field and manufacturing company, between manufacturing and engineering, between product performance and requirements. Agree – exciting time to come! Best, Oleg

  • Abhishek Singh

    Perhaps there is a need of a different way to manage vast amount of data getting generated from Digital Twins and it need not be PLM

  • beyondplm

    Abhishek, thanks for your comment! Of course, we can pickup another technology capable to manage the size and velocity of “Digital Twin” data. However, the problem is that this data should be connected to core information management by PLM. And merging information as well as getting meaningful insight and actions based on that is a biggest value IoT/ PLM technologies promise to deliver.

  • Adam Gąsiorek


    a flavour of what the exciting time of Digital Twin can bring with the connection between IoT, PLM, SLM and AR – take a look atąsiorek

    All the best,

  • beyondplm

    Thank you for sharing the link!

  • Pingback: Beyond PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) Blog PLM IoT: Expansion vs Redefinition? - Beyond PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) Blog()

  • Pingback: Digital Twin: An enhanced version of the maintenance BoM, the #PLM plat ... - Data Center()