We answer the basic questions most companies are asking about digital twins right now and explain how they’re being used in the modern supply chain.
The phrase “digital twin” is being used a lot these days in relation to many different businesses and processes, but the term itself isn’t always easy to grasp—nor are the real-world applications of digital twins. Here are some basics that you can use to determine the value that digital twins can provide in your own company’s supply chain.
Q: What’s a digital twin?
A: According to Gartner, Inc., a digital twin is a digital representation of a real-world entity or system. The implementation of a digital twin is an encapsulated software object or model that mirrors a unique physical object, process, organization, person or other abstraction. Data from multiple digital twins can be aggregated for a composite view across a number of real-world entities- a power plant or a city—and their related processes.
Q: How do digital twins work?
A: Rather than physically creating the equipment, software and models that have to be “tested” before they can be used in supply chain management, digital twins allow you to model solutions, optimizations and adjustments without impacting the actual supply chain. That way, you can move forward only with those solutions that produce results.
Q: What is the underlying technology?
A: Virtual models designed to accurately reflect physical objects, digital twins involve an object that’s being studied—a wind turbine, for example—and various sensors related to vital areas of that piece of equipment’s functionality. These sensors produce data about different aspects of the physical object’s performance, such as energy output, temperature, weather conditions and more. This data is then relayed to a processing system and applied to the digital copy. “Once informed with such data, the virtual model can be used to run simulations, study performance issues and generate possible improvements,” IBM states, “all with the goal of generating valuable insights that can then be applied back to the original physical object.”
Q: How do digital twins differ from simulations?
A: Both use digital models to replicate a system’s various processes, but a digital twin is an actual “virtual environment,” making it considerably more useful for assessment and study. “The difference between digital twin and simulation is largely a matter of scale,” IBM points out. “While a simulation typically studies one particular process, a digital twin can itself run any number of useful simulations in order to study multiple processes.”
Q: What are the other advantages of using digital twins?
A: They can enable more effective research and product design; help mirror and monitor production systems, with an eye to achieving and maintaining peak efficiency throughout the entire manufacturing process; and help manufacturers decide how to dispose of products that reach the end of their product lifecycles. According to IBM, they’ve also become ubiquitous in all stages of manufacturing, guiding products from design to finished product, and all steps in between.
Q: How are digital twins being applied in the supply chain?
A: They’re helping companies better understand patterns, and model the outcome of modifications across different processes, AI Multiple reports. Digital twins can help companies calculate the benefits, cost savings and potential return on investment for their supply chain applications before implementation even starts. They also allow supply chain organizations to test and discover the best course of action for emergencies, and experiment with different scenarios in a virtual environment, thus improving organizational stability. By providing a perpetual, end-to-end view of processes and bottlenecks across the supply chain, digital twins also “facilitate more agile problem resolution with minor human intervention,” the publication adds.
Q: Can digital twins support improved transportation planning?
A: Yes, companies can use digital twins to assess how changes in demand and supply affect the supply chain’s physical locations and supporting system while delivering products and services to end customers. “By leveraging real-time data,” AI Multiple adds, “digital twins enable supply chain management to better plan transportation resources.”
Q: What types of companies are best suited for digital twins?
A: According to EY, capitally-intensive industries that have complex and highly engineered manufacturing processes are “ideally suited” to benefit from both supply chain and factory-level digital twins. In the design and investment phase of costly assets, for example, they can be used to evaluate design options prior to making capital commitments, which optimizes efficiency and cost and minimizes risk. “The same digital twin can be used to operate a plant through detailed scheduling of production,” EY points out, “which is capable of handling highly complex and time-dependent processes that change frequently with variability in the availability of equipment and people.”