A quick primer on digital twins (Part 1)

Is 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.

Digital twins are virtual representations of real-world physical objects using data, modelling and visualization. Digital twins are dynamic and real-time. They are much more capable than static representations like a blueprint, a schematic, a picture, a scale model or even an animation.

Read brief answers to the most important questions about digital twins below.

What is a digital twin?

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 necessary features of the physical object. The characteristics include thermal, mechanical, electrical, chemical, fluid dynamic, material, and economic properties.

What problems do digital twins address?

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

  1. High equipment development cost and elapsed time.
  2. Unplanned equipment failures.
  3. High operating costs.
  4. High energy consumption.
  5. 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:

  1. Exploring design alternatives for new products or enhancements while avoiding the cost of building physical prototypes.
  2. Planning maintenance work to minimize related downtime.
  3. 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 do digital twins 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:

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

This variety of benefits is accelerating the adoption of digital twins and leading to the evolution of multiple types of digital twins.

Are digital twins 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:

  1. Study multiple processes concurrently. Simulations typically study one process at a time.
  2. 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.
  3. Study more issues from more vantage points than simulations.


In part 2 of A quick primer on digital twins, we’ll explore the types of digital twins and implementation considerations.

What ideas can you contribute to help organizations better use digital twins? We’d love to read your opinion. You can share that with us below. Select the checkmark for agreement or the X for disagreement. In either case, you’ll be asked if you also want to send your comments directly to our editorial team.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Yogi Schulz
Yogi Schulzhttp://www.corvelle.com
Yogi Schulz has over 40 years of Information Technology experience in various industries. Yogi works extensively in the petroleum industry to select and implement financial, production revenue accounting, land & contracts, and geotechnical systems. He manages projects that arise from changes in business requirements, from the need to leverage technology opportunities and from mergers. His specialties include IT strategy, web strategy, and systems project management.

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