Unless you didn’t check any publication about engineering and manufacturing software for the last few years, I probably heard about Digital Twin. Vendors say it is a new technology and paradigm shift. You can find tons of analyst’s researches and publications. Customers are carefully trying to dig in and understand what is behind the flourish marketing slides.
As I’ve been told once, the difference between journalism and analysts is simple – the first group is publishing news and the second is explaining them. Fair enough. However, the following article in Engineering.com is none of these. Mission impossible: The Digital Twin. The article caught my eye earlier today as I was skimming new articles and social media. Have a read. It is kind of entertaining.
I love this funny moment of the dialog.
Possibly. This isn’t going to be as easy as the Engineer had thought. He’d haveto dig deeper. Maybe unleash a rant. He wants to tell the intern how we havebeen making digital representations of objects for a long time, Son. For over 30years that I’ve been in the business. Longer than you’ve been alive. Too much?He edits himself. It comes out as:
They have been making digital models for almost as long as there have beencomputers.
Though the digital representations have been getting better and more realistic,to date they fall short of real twin status. A CAD model of a part is anexample. But a CAD model is about as similar to the part as a shadow is to theperson who casts it. A CAD model may capture the shape of the part—possibly itsappearance and a few of its physical attributes, such as mass. But it falls farshort of the real thing.
Most obviously … and here he pauses for effect. It’s only in the computer. It’sdigital. You cannot hold it in your hand.
Speaking seriously, the most important passage to me is this one:
Similar to the blind men and the elephant, many stakeholders have modeled anaspect of a real object or process. It is limited to each perspective. It mayserve only one purpose. For example, a rendered image of a part completelydescribes how a perfect part will look in a perfect world. Of course, it isincomplete and has built-in limitations, an inherent and unavoidableincompleteness.
A complete digital twin, again, is a notion, an ideal, a goal. We’re a long wayoff from that. It won’t be until we can model each subatomic particle andpredict its interaction with the next—on an individual basis, over time, in anenvironment from local to cosmic, that a true digital twin can be born.
The passage leaves no doubt, a complete Digital Twin is probably similar to complete PLM business transformation and it is hard to achieve.
Which made me think about reality. The reality of every manufacturing company is tons of spreadsheets. These spreadsheets live around CAD and data management systems the company is using. It depends on the company, size, vision, management and… luck you can find more spreadsheets or fewer spreadsheets. You can see fewer spreadsheets going upstream (engineering kingdom) and you can find more spreadsheets moving downstream.
If you think about all these spreadsheets, they represent the reality of models and business processes, which exist in the company at certain moment of time. So, if you think about living company designing and manufacturing products, a collection of data represented by databases and tons of spreadsheets is a twin of the process.
To dig into this data can be an interesting thing to do. Because the data contains a lot of information about how to optimize company processes, business and products. But as building a true digital twin, it is not a simple thing. What techniques can be used? One of them is a brutal force. Let’s scrap all data and dig inside. Kind of Googlized approach, but applied to a company. Sounds to brutal? Maybe a more curated approach is possible. Let ask people to upload their existing spreadsheets containing data they are relying on the everyday business. It is hard to say what approach can move us faster. In my view, having systems capable of aggregate existing data from companies and make them actionable and get a sense of this data is the way to go.
What is my conclusion? How to model all the processes you have in the company? This is an interesting question to ask. Can we start by collecting spreadsheets and making an analysis of processes? That would be a fantastic opportunity. But is it possible? Another great question to ask. We need models that can help us to answer these questions. Not twins. Just my thoughts…
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing cloud-based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups, and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.