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The first practical application of digital twins originated with NASA for aerospace, and later became widely used by the gaming industry. Now, the use of real-time 3D development to create digital twins is taking enterprise, governmental and higher education organizations by storm. 

The idea that digital twins represent a niche toolset is a misconception. Today, digital twins are used in numerous ways as diverse as virtual production, designing theme park rides, developing proteins, increasing safety in hostile environments and reducing labor costs. 

In short, not only are digital twins real, but they are also used in ways that provide significant value and build competitive advantage for organizations in a variety of industries. WWT brings real-world experience across business and public sector to help you get started.

What are digital twins?

One of the current visions of the Metaverse is the connection of digital and physical worlds, and digital twins are its building blocks. They are digital copies of physical objects or systems that enable you to do real-time monitoring and performance, predict future behavior, trouble-shoot, perhaps even create training modules by enabling a human to interact with the digital twin object to define methods and procedures, and more. These virtual clones of physical assets and operations also allow you to simulate scenarios quickly and inexpensively to innovate, improve processes, develop long-range plans, and make decisions in ways you never could using physical assets, given their cost and limitations.

One simple, commonly used example is Google Maps, which is a digital twin of the earth's surface that processes real-time traffic data live, used from multiple physical models, to help you optimize your driving routes.

Digital twins fall in common archetypes including: 

  • Product twins, which are representation of the product.
  • Production plant twins of entire manufacturing facility.
  • Procurement and supply chain twins, often called network twins (McKinsey, 2022).
  • Infrastructure twins, which are increasingly applied throughout the lifecycle of infrastructure (plan, design, build and run) to optimize spend and to improve efficiency and safety. (Digital Twin Consortium).

While an absolute definition of digital twins has not yet emerged, the value of digital twins is absolutely clear. In fact, the digital twin market is predicted to grow from $3.1 billion in 2020 to $63.5 billion by 2027, according to research firm, MarketsandMarkets, which considers digital twins one of the fundamental components of Industry 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution. The firm predicts that the industries that will be major end-users of digital twins will include the automotive, transportation, energy and power, aerospace and defense industries. (CIO, 2021)

The digital twin was first conceptualized by NASA in the 1960s. When Apollo 13's oxygen tank exploded, NASA converted a physical model of the rocket to a digital one to evaluate the explosion so they could ultimately navigate the rocket to a safe landing.

In 2002, GE and Siemens took the baton further, pioneering IoT devices using digital twins for large applications like manufacturing and avionics. Their models connected the physical and the digital, simulating real-time applications so they could manage cost and risk while understanding the interactions between internal and external factors. Today, progress in AI and ML has made digital twins even more impactful. (Forbes, 2022)

How can you use digital twins to add value to your organization?

While discrete use cases will use digital twins differently, many organizations can benefit from using digital twins to:

  • Develop real-time blueprints
  • Collect real-time data
  • Provide real-time insights
  • Predict behavior, simulate power usage, heat distribution, and predict the carbon footprint to validate ESG goals
  • Conduct live surveillance and monitoring
  • Identify safety, security, and compliance issues in real-time
  • Virtual training, less hazardous environment – more cost effective
  • Determine where process blockages can be fixed with automation and optimization.

The possibilities are nearly endless, and new uses for digital twins are emerging all the time. 

WWT's DNA is wired for digital twins

In software development, you need a production-like environment that mimics what you're going to launch from a systems perspective. This of course would be costly and time-consuming to build. Of course, that's the concept underlying the WWT Advanced Technology Center (ATC). We simulate your environment, giving you a way to try out new technology to see how it will perform in your world, and to let you gain hands-on experience before investing in new technology. We do the same kind of projects as digital twins. 

Digital twins may well be the ATC 2.0. While it won't replace what we do in the ATC today, it will expand our capabilities, allowing you to do instantaneous tweaks, and to visually see and digitally understand how those changes will affect your whole system. Instead of measure twice, cut once, you can iterate in a digital format infinitely until you get the recipe just right. That's when you cut, or build, with full confidence. It's faster, less expensive, and more creative than building physical models, which can be cost-prohibitive. 

With tools, geographically diverse teams across the globe can work simultaneously together or separately on the same digital twin—like Microsoft Teams or Google docs for 3D development.

Some of our current digital twin projects include:

  • Running a security assessment or performing intrusive security testing to validate and patch vulnerabilities ahead of a full deployment.
  • Working on a digital twin of a theme park under construction so we can test the lighting and production aspects of live shows before the theme park even exists
  • Building a digital twin of a golf hole as part of an Immersive XR Sports Experience
  • Trialing out a drone system that simulates a system you would create to monitor powerlines, which allows the client to perfect flight patterns for less time and cost
  • Testing out materials for an autonomous submarine via a digital twin to ensure they will withstand extreme exposures.

9 steps to successfully leverage digital twins

To ensure your digital twin projects add value to your business, you need to follow these steps:

  1. Define your business outcomes. Be specific on the objectives you want to achieve through your digital twin project. Be clear on what you want to accomplish, what metrics you will use to measure success, and how the project fits into your overall business strategy.
  2. Identify the right data sources. Digital twins rely on accurate and relevant data to generate insights and predictions. Identify the right data sources that will provide you with the necessary information to create an effective digital twin. This may include data from CAD, Navisworks, Revit and other sources.
  3. Choose the right technology. There are many different tools and technologies available for creating digital twins. Choose the technology that best fits your needs, taking into account factors such as scalability, ease of use, and compatibility with your existing systems. Tools like Epic's Unreal and NVIDIA's Omniverse are good examples.

    1. Intel offers multiple offerings, including Intel® SceneScape, a software foundation for creating spatially aware digital twins designed specifically for re-creating environments in 3D scene graphs.
    2. Regardless of which tools you choose, Intel's latest Xeon® Scalable processors for the IoT edge provide hardware-enabled AI acceleration and high core counts to help you move data faster between edge servers and external sensors, and drive greater parallelization for digital twin simulations. Intel also provides software offerings for digital twin operators, including:
    3. The Intel® Distribution of OpenVINO™ toolkit for independent software vendors (ISVs) to optimize AI-driven digital twin solutions for fast performance on Intel® hardware.
    4. Intel® Smart Edge, a software-defined edge computing platform to consolidate orchestration of sensors and tools across the IoT edge.
  4. Develop a comprehensive plan. Once you have defined your objectives, identified your data sources, and selected your technology, create a comprehensive plan for developing and implementing your digital twin project. This plan should include timelines, milestones, budget, and resources needed.
  5. Seek support from Senior Leadership. Involve all stakeholders, including IT, operations, business leaders, and end users, in the planning and implementation process. This will help ensure that the digital twin is aligned with business needs and that everyone is committed to the project's success.
  6. Identify the most relevant use case to start with. We typically try to pick one that is not too complex and actually build out the entire digital-twin framework from there. (McKinsey, 2022)
  7. Partner with an expert—one that understands your business, technology and how to build digital twins to drive your desired business outcomes.
  8. Test and validate. Before deploying your digital twin, test and validate it thoroughly to ensure that it works as intended and provides accurate insights and predictions.
  9. Continuously monitor and refine. Once your digital twin is deployed, continuously monitor its performance and refine it as needed to ensure that it continues to add value to your business. Also, consider developing training modules for operators.

Why work with WWT on your digital twin project

To truly be successful, you need to have both technical capability and a deep understanding of industry trends, requirements, and limitations. World Wide Technology has built a great advantage by coupling industry knowledge with technology expertise and versatility, embedding industry experts within all its technical teams focusing on digital twins.

Within WWT's DNA is 30 years' worth of experience building physical twins in our Advanced Technology Center (ATC). Advancing and augmenting that experience with the ability to develop digital twins provides another tool in our toolbelt to help customers simulate future projects by creating production-like environments in a way that alleviates the constraints of cost, time and complexity.

For more information on our digital twin capabilities, reach out to your account team or a WWT expert.

Learn more about how digital twins and the metaverse can work for your organization to deliver immersive impactful experiences.
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