Have you already seen the term “the digital twin”? The digital twin plays an important role, especially in the course of Industry 4.0-based processes. Basically, it describes nothing more than the depiction of a real object in the digital world.

However, since this can only be mapped online in the form of data and algorithms, a copy of a real object is created in this way, so to speak – the digital twin.

Importance of the digital twin

The digital twin is used to digitally map tangible or intangible products, such as products, services or even entire processes. This is either for later use or for a real-time based analysis. It happens because the digital twin is coupled with the existing world via sensors. This can, for example, affect the environment or the use of machines. As certain scenarios can be played through digitally, these can serve as a basis for the creation of forecasts. Such predictions and simulations play an important role, especially in the field of Industry 4.0. After all, they have a significant influence on future production and development processes. As a rule, a digital twin is created starting with the product development, which then goes through the same stations in the development process, usually in advance of the real object. With these virtual simulations, important milestones of a tangible or intangible product can be optimally planned in advance, optimized if necessary or even completely redesigned.

Building a digital twin

For the mapping of a digital twin, three components are required above all:

  • a real object
  • a digital imaging room
  • as well as the data and values associated with the real object

On the basis of this information, algorithms can then be mapped that reproduce the real-time data of the real object online. In many industries, as a rule, several digital twins are initially created for a product, which are ultimately combined to form a holistic digital twin. This procedure is not only justified by the fact that large amounts of data often arise for products with many sub-objects (keyword: Big data ), whereby a single digital twin can quickly become too complex and confusing, but also because only individual, faulty processes have to be changed instead of carrying out a completely new scenario analysis.

In the automotive industry, for example, it is common practice to create individual digital twins for the respective vehicle parts such as the body, chassis, tires or engine, which, like the engine, can be split into several digital twins. But even in the area of entire production facilities, multiple individual digital twins are often used, with a threefold subdivision usually taking place here. In doing so, digital twins are usually in shape

  • of a 3D model
  • of machines, tools and processes
  • and of key figures and data such as production, quality or delivery times

pictured.

Areas of application of a digital twin

Based on their main use in the area of Industry 4.0 products, digital twins are particularly well represented in the areas of production technology and subcontracting. Ultimately, such a virtual image can be used as an aid within the production technology as early as the design phase of an object and thus accompany a product throughout its development process. This also makes it possible to do without prototypes, which are often costly and time-consuming. Nevertheless, important parameters of a real property, such as quality, benefit or efficiency, can also be continuously optimized or recycling options can be planned.

In addition, manufacturers can use a digital twin to virtually check the quality and accuracy of the real objects delivered without having to resort to a prototype. This means that manufacturing processes can be planned and tested in a much simpler and more complex manner.

Examples of digital twins

Imagine: An image of the completely real value creation processes as virtual production. The car to be produced runs quasi live through a deserted, dark factory while the virtual team works on the digital twin. Maintenance, corrections, robot control, intervening, changes, everything happens in the digital twin just like in the factory.

Now transferred to project management, we have arrived at the complete virtual project. Each of our decisions has a direct impact on reality. Virtual plan becomes real. So the construction site will grow as fast in the virtual world as it is in real life. Many thanks to Tobias Greff from the AWS Institute for the input in this paragraph.

Advantages of digital twins

It is easy to see that there are many advantages to using digital twins. In particular, defective product areas or processes can be identified and remedied much more quickly. But a digital twin can also significantly improve the overall quality and efficiency of a real property on the basis of other advantages.

  • Optimization options already during the property planning
  • error-free processes and procedures
  • Execution of various tests and simulations
  • more efficient and more accurate forecasting options
  • faster and flawless commissioning of objects
  • Possibility of constant monitoring and optimization
  • Time and cost savings by avoiding complex prototypes
  • Real-time based overall overview of the development process of a real object
  • more targeted coordination with dealers and suppliers

Excursus: the digital twin in knowledge work

Here, too, it is extreme, the total virtual image of a knowledge worker. I imagine the future as my colleagues do Tobias Greff from the AWS Institute . Our idea is a virtual project manager who puts together a team on a platform for the problem and is selected according to professional expertise, verified references, star rankings or recommendations from the professional social network. The virtual team is supplemented by intelligent bots, ie assistance services with artificial intelligence designed for specific subject areas.

You write the minutes and transcribe the results. Automatically generate PowerPoint slides, Excel calculations or carry out information research on request. The team is now put together.

So off to the first customer meeting and quickly with a few clicks, the outfit adjusted, because according to statistical expectations, only jeans and a shirt belong to the innovation project.

Conclusion

The digital twin thus describes a decisive key factor within digitization and Industry 4.0. Through the real-time-based linking of information from real objects with that of a virtual prototype, the digital twin holds enormous potential for many industries such as production technology or the field of subcontracting. At the same time, researchers are working on making digital twins usable for cross-platform use and thus enabling cross-manufacturer and automated exchange.

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Author

I blog about the influence of digitalization on our working world. For this purpose, I provide content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday professional life. I am an executive in an SME and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the Chair of IT Management.

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