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.


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