Unless you lived under the rock for the last few years, you’ve heard about Digital Twin. Wikipedia article gives a very simple definition of Digital Twin- as a digital replica of a living or non-living physical entity. Digital twin refers to a digital replica of potential and actual physical assets, processes, people, places, systems, and devices that can be used for various purposes.
I like the Wikipedia definition before it gives a good sense of what can be done. In other words, make a digital representation of a product in the way you can do something useful. Back in my Ph.D. studies many years ago, I made a digital replica of a building, which was useful to simulate aeration of industrial buildings in the metallurgical industry. It was a model capable of simulating temperature in the building depending on various parameters. Was it a digital twin? Back in those days, we used different words.
Jump in the present time, Engineering.com article published an article – 8 Myths about Digital Twins. My favorite passage is the following one. It is related to the “usable standard definition” of digital twins. Read the definition and draw your conclusion.
Perhaps it’s time to formulate a definition of digital twins that considers but is independent of its various implementations. The overall definition of digital twins should be neutral to any particular implementation and should cover all forms of digital twins. Based on the two common characteristics of a digital twin outlined earlier, two potential standard definitions for a digital twin are presented here.
CIMdata definition: “A digital twin is a virtual representation of a physical asset or collection of physical assets (physical twin) that exploits information flow to/from the associated physical asset(s).
”NAFEMS SMSWG (Systems Modeling and Simulation Working Group) definition: “The digital twin is a digital surrogate that is a description of a physical asset, such as products, processes, systems, people and devices, that can be used for various purposes. The digital twin makes use of data and information from the real-world asset and provides feedback to this real-world asset.”
Both definitions use vague words explaining that information can be used to get feedback about real objects’ behavior. The most interesting part is that the approach to use the information to analyze physical object behavior used in engineering disciplines probably as long as these disciplines existed. Unless, a digital twin is something new and related to specific approaches of information modeling on a scale that wasn’t available 20, 30, or even 40 years ago.
So, where is the problem? If you read about all eight myths, you can see some dependencies between vendors’ unique value proposition and myths. The correlation seems to be very obvious. Can we call the 3D CAD Model a digital twin? What if we have IoT data connected? Should we connect lifecycle data? Is it important to establish direct dependencies between physical and digital objects? I can see how these questions are leading to the way CAD and PLM companies are advertising their products.
You can say, so what? Here is the thing. Digital twin became a very nice and glamorous marketing name every single vendor is using more or less to promote what they do. So, don’t be surprised that vendors focusing on 3D CAD models and simulation will call it digital twin, non–CAD PLM vendors will explain how important it is to put lifecycle data (and not only 3D CAD data) and some others will say how important IoT to create a digital twin. As a result, Digital Twin is a cool promotion of existing products. Each of these features, functions, and products is very important and valuable, but calling all these features Digital Twin does very little service to help customers to understand the value of the technology behind it. As a result, as an industry, we are building a Digital Twin Hype. We can see more and more marketing coming around. The extreme is a Digital Twin of Human, presented by Dassault Systemes super visionary Bernard Charles recently. I think Bernard has a great vision, but why call it Digital Twin?
What is my conclusion?
Digital Twin is a cool name. I hope you agree. And I like this name. Unfortunately, marketing did their job well and created a glorified definition and campaigns about Digital Twin that very confusing. In most of these presentations, the words Digital Twin can be easily replaced by something that is more thoughtful and pragmatic such as model, information, simulation, etc. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen and marketing keeps creating even more variations of digital twin marketing. I found these processes really damaging since as a result, we have Digital Hype and not Digital Twins. Customers have a hard time connecting values and functions. It would be much better if vendors would use a specific tech or descriptions about what products do rather than using generic marketing of Digital Twin. 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.