Why are Digital Twins suddenly picking up steam? Here's what you need to know, how they work, and what to expect in the coming years.
Digital Twin isn’t an entirely new concept. It was first introduced at least 15 years ago, yet only now is it picking up steam as a movement. Several journalists and thought leaders spent 2016 talking up the new trend, but adoption is still a few steps behind the hype-train. There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is simply grasping the weight of the concept.
A Digital Twin is a digital representation of a physical object. Imagine all the chairs around you existing in a digital office. More importantly, all of the expensive equipment and employees on an assembly line do, too. As do doctors, nurses, and their crucial tools. It’s easy to imagine, but how can you enact this? How can you turn that idea into valuable returns that merits building such a system in the first place? Additionally, the slow growth of Bluetooth will play a huge role in the Digital Twin concept as it continues, but we’ll get to that.
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You have a question: does sending a manager to perform rounds around the production line increase safety? Does it incentivize workers to be more careful and result in higher security?
You can do this test the analogue way. Simply track all signs indicative of a safe or unsafe environment. Falls, mistakes, technical problems, and compare it against physically recorded data on the manager’s rounds. After some days, you’ll have an answer. However, this is very minuscule data gathered to answer just one question. To do a more in-depth test would require much more time and resources. Unfortunately, these highly repetitive tasks aren’t exactly the best use of staff’s time.
You can also do this with Digital Twins. For example, attaching Bluetooth beacons with sensors to assets and employees, you can digitally map where each of these key players are. You can digitally see the manager, the employees, the accidents.
This data can be routed through software to perform data analytics. Now, there’s data on the current state of those assets and historical data on all their movements. Moreover, you can ask multiple questions using the same datasets. Did rounds result in higher safety? Are employees more productive at certain times? Is certain equipment performing at full capacity?
The idea of using beacon data for predictive analytics in Digital Twinning is only new because of the terminology. In fact, funneling beacon data through other backends is almost a core facet of the technology. For example, Kontakt.io beacon data can be funneled through an API into another platform. Here, the owner can integrate that physical beacon data with whatever they choose. This is already happening in proximity marketing or indoor navigation. Now, we’re simply adding new terms to the mix.
For many, the main goal of the Digital Twin is to simply save time and money by digitizing processes. Modern businesses need to operate at absolute maximum efficiency. This isn’t just a saying, it’s the movements of the market. Because competitors can work faster and for less, the push to perfect every action is very real. While perfection remains elusive, most influential and forward-looking companies remain diligent.
The Digital Twin can support businesses in four key ways:
Visibility: Where is this doctor located right now? Where is a patient being treated right now? Information on the present whereabouts of assets can be crucial especially in healthcare or manufacturing where split-second changes can be a sign of an emergency. Multiple variables can also be used together to determine specific events occurring—a meeting, a check-up, a cleaning round.
Predictive analytics: How long can your machines last at their current rate? Digital Twins provide the digital setup to see what will happen to assets in the future. This is effectively just a more organized use of data that has been growing in popularity in recent years. Sensors collecting movement, temperature, and other data can be aggregated to create a realistic idea of when a piece of equipment will need maintenance. Similarly, it can also be used to outline likely less machine-driven activities.
What-if scenarios: What happens when a company changes processes? Testing these “what-if” scenarios can be incredibly expensive and costly, making it difficult to involve the most relevant people or professionals. The result is also testing that doesn’t take into full account all of the variables. As the paper on Digital Twins by Dr. Michael Grieves and John Vickers joked:
“What do they call the medical student who graduates at the bottom of his or her class?” Answer: “Doctor.”
Though tests would be done often using top performers, the resulting processes would have to include everyone. Digital Twins make more substantial and thorough testing easier and less time-consuming.
Documentation: When was maintenance last performed on those turbines? Sure, you can keep paper records, but Digital Twins provide verifiable data to make that easier and more search-friendly. Plus, it offers complete oversight, also sharing details on, for example, surrounding business or financial data, related individuals, equipment, and other factors.
The Digital Twin is growing increasingly common, though these implementations are not so often discussed. Siemens and GE are both using Digital Twins as are smaller companies. One big change that is still occurring, and will likely continue in the coming years, is the importance of Bluetooth. Beacons are one of the few tools able to turn a physical item into a digital one. More importantly, while Active RFID is more established, it is also far more expensive.
This is largely because of the readers used. While RFID readers are very costly, Bluetooth readers are uniquely affordable. Some numbers find a BLE-based system to cost 1/5th the price of an RFID equivalent. However, this is only part of the cost when it comes to Digital Twins. Data storage, the appropriate platform, and actual analysts are going to add the costs. This is why the Digital Twin hasn’t yet reached real “trending” level with average companies. In order to turn those digital signs into something meaningful, manager’s will require a lot of extra resources.
Beacons or Bluetooth “tags” are easily equipped with sensors to track falls, spiking temperatures, and other state changes. The change to Bluetooth 5 will only further support this, allowing for 800% more data to be transferred. In reality, beacons have been limited to only 31 bytes of data until Bluetooth 5. With this wall broken down, next-gen beacons will be capable of transferring much more and providing more value to the Digital Twin model.
However, the number is growing. The latest study from Markets and Markets predicts the Digital Twin market to be worth $15.66billion by 2023 at a CAGR of nearly 38%. APAC, materials and chemicals industries as well as agriculture are expected to experience the highest CAGR in the period.
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