Gartner analysts set out four best practices for deploying and sustaining digital twin programmes, on the back of research that finds a big increase in their usage.
Nearly half of firms are planning to use digital twin technologies as part of their Internet of Things (IoT) deployments, according to new research published by Gartner.
Digital twins are virtual and data counterparts of physical objects, such as a component, machine, product, or entire facility. Using digital twins, organisations can manage, maintain, and repair their physical assets, and store detailed knowledge about how components fit together.
Gartner found that 48 percent of organisations that are implementing IoT programmes said they are already using, or plan to use, digital twins in 2018.
The research was conducted during June and July 2017 among 202 respondents in the US, Germany, China and Japan, who had already delivered IoT solutions or have IoT projects in progress.
Gartner predicts that by 2020, at least 50 percent of manufacturers with annual revenues in excess of $5 billion will have at least one digital twin project in play for either products or assets.
“There is increasing interest and investment in digital twins and their promise is certainly compelling,”said Alexander Hoeppe, research director at Gartner.
“However, creating and maintaining digital twins is not for the faint-hearted,” he warned, “but by structuring and executing digital twin initiatives appropriately, CIOs can address the key challenges they pose.”
Four best practices
Gartner has identified four best practices to tackle the main challenges posed by digital twins.
• Involve the entire product value chain
Digital twin investments should be value-chain driven, to enable stakeholders to govern and manage products, or assets such as industrial machinery, across the supply chain in more structured and holistic ways.
For example, some of the challenges that supply-chain officers face include a lack of cross-functional collaboration, and a lack of visibility across the supply chain.
• Establish well-documented practices
Establishing well-documented practices for constructing and modifying digital twins will help ensure that the twins have long, useful life cycles.
“Best-in-class modelling practices increase transparency on often complex digital twin designs, and make it easier for multiple digital twin users to construct and modify digital twins collaboratively,” said Gartner.
“When modelling practices are standardised, one user is more likely to understand how another user created a digital twin. This enables the downstream user to modify the digital twin in less time, and with less need to destroy and recreate portions of the digital twin.”
• Include data from multiple sources
CIOs can expand the utility of digital twins by recommending that IT architects and digital twin owners define an architecture that allows the access and use of data from multiple sources.
“While 3D geometry is sufficient to communicate the digital twin visually and how parts fit together, the geometric model may not be able to perform simulations of the behaviour of the physical counterpart in use or operation,” explained Gartner.
“At the same time, the geometric model may not be able to analyse data if it is not enriched with additional information.”
• Ensure long access life cycles by avoiding proprietary software
Proprietary implementations risk locking digital twin owners into a single vendor, which ties the viability of digital twin programmes into proprietary formats, not to mention the supplier’s financial health and ability to provide long-term support.
“Digital twins created in proprietary design software formats have a high risk of being unreadable throughout their service life,” said Gartner’s Hoeppe.
“CIOs can guard against this by setting a goal for IT architects and digital twin owners to plan for the long-term evolution of data formats and data storage.”
Internet of Business says
Perhaps the biggest digital twin programme currently in existence can be found at CERN in Geneva, where the 27km loop of the Large Hadron Collider remains the largest machine ever built. Every component in the LHC – and on the CERN campus, which is the size of a small town – is logged in an enterprise asset management (EAM) system as a digital twin. This enables engineers to keep the big science running, and for repairs, upgrades, and replacements to be planned for well in advance.
And the system has another, equally important benefit: in a 27km complex full of expensive equipment, the digital twin system also tells engineers exactly where the tiny bolt that needs replacing is located. That’s not to be sniffed at when a round trip on a slow maintenance vehicle may take several hours.