How digital twins can revolutionize asset management

Yogi SchulzIs there a digital twin in your future? As more companies adopt digital twins to manage their essential assets, it’s worth examining this trend and the value it delivers. Digital twins help engineers, technicians, and operators better understand how their complex assets are performing now and how they will perform in the future.

A digital twin is a digital model of a physical object, such as production equipment or a transportation system. The physical object can be any asset, such as a natural gas compressor, a building, a locomotive, a vacuum cleaning robot, a bridge, or a jet engine. Digital twin models include all the necessary features of the physical object. The characteristics include thermal, mechanical, electrical, chemical, fluid dynamic, material, and economic properties.

Digital twins are virtual representations of real-world physical objects created using data, modelling, and visualization. They are dynamic and real-time and much more capable than static representations like blueprints, schematics, pictures, scale models, or even animations.

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What problems do digital twins address?

Some examples of the problems that digital twins help companies address include:

  • High equipment development cost and elapsed time.
  • Unplanned equipment failures.
  • High operating costs.
  • High energy consumption.
  • Avoidable environmental impact.

Digital twins address these problems by modelling the equipment and its operation.

What are some examples of digital twin applications?

Examples of digital twin applications include:

  • Exploring design alternatives for new products or enhancements while avoiding the cost of building physical prototypes.
  • Planning maintenance work to minimize related downtime.
  • Understanding the causes of wear and breakdowns of the physical object to increase the mean time between failures (MTBF).

Applications for digital twins exist in many industries, including construction, energy, healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, and utilities.

What value does a digital twin produce?

As physical objects become more complex, expensive, larger and perhaps heavier, the value of digital twins increases. Examples of how digital twins produce value include:

  • Increasing throughput, revenue and profitability.
  • Reducing the cost and elapsed time of equipment research and development cycles.
  • Eliminating or reducing the cost of building physical prototypes.
  • Lowering the manufacturing cost of equipment to reduce capital expenditures.
  • Reducing the cost and downtime of maintenance work.
  • Improving equipment efficiency and reliability.
  • Improving prediction of unplanned equipment failures.
  • Increasing the mean time between planned maintenance events.
  • Reducing the cost and elapsed time of equipment inspections.
  • Improving occupational and process safety to lower operational risk.
  • Lowering operating costs while improving energy efficiency and sustainability.
  • Lengthening useful equipment life.
  • Improving decommissioning and recycling processes.

This variety of benefits accelerates the adoption of digital twins and leads to the evolution of multiple types of digital twins.

Is a digital twin simply another type of simulation?

Digital twins and simulations both utilize digital models to replicate the capabilities of physical objects. However, a digital twin is a virtual environment that adds scale and capability beyond what simulations can do. Digital twins:

  • Study multiple processes concurrently. Simulations typically study one process at a time.
  • Handle a two-way flow of information between the physical object and the digital twin in real time. Simulations typically study after-the-fact data with no feedback to the physical object.
  • Study more issues from more vantage points than simulations.

Expect more companies to adopt digital twins to manage their essential assets more effectively.

Next time, I’ll explore the types of digital twins and implementation considerations.

Yogi Schulz has over 40 years of information technology experience in various industries. Yogi works extensively in the petroleum industry. He manages projects that arise from changes in business requirements, the need to leverage technology opportunities, and mergers. His specialties include IT strategy, web strategy and project management.

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