Product engineering processes are changing. On the quest of reducing costs, decreasing time to market, increasing efficiency and improving quality, the boundaries of what is possible are constantly being pushed. To stay competitive the development process must promote and nurture creativity and innovation. To achieve this, computer-aided development methods must be put to better use. Join in on the quest for the digital twin - the Holy Grail of virtual engineering.

A common misperception in the industry is that a digital twin is something you can buy. The use of the term in marketing material from PLM vendors has led to the somewhat naive perception that the digital twin is achieved by the combination of CAD and data management. Of course, CAD and data management play important roles in the overall toolchain, but there are few (if any) applications where these provide the feedback you expect from a digital twin. In reality, the concept is highly complex. A digital twin is a full virtual replica of your product, a system mock-up that can be used for all kinds of analysis. Imagine the money you could save if you had access to a virtual prototype from day one of a project. Or imagine the time you would save if you could derive close to optimized design parameters directly from requirements, already before the first design iteration. I have met many customers claiming to use a digital twin in their product development, in reality, none of them have even been close.

The toolchain used is certainly important, but more pressing in order to achieve a digital twin is changing and reviewing the workflows. Digitalization is not about changing from one toolchain to another. It is about changing and streamlining processes through digital methods. As these methods evolve, flexibility and expandability are key features of a future-proof workflow. Understanding the current process and how it must change is essential in this transition.

Some time ago I met with a company who was elaborating on an approach for the digital twin. They had just successfully managed to develop a new product, more or less without the traditional hardware tests. Instead, their approach relied heavily on simulation. Even though their progress was impressive it was obvious to them that they had a long way to go. Their next challenge was to derive an optimized design directly from requirements. They had come to the point where they could achieve this for individual requirements, resulting in one design for fuel efficiency, one for acoustics and so on. The issue was to merge the results into one design. Solving this is not trivial, but knowing and understanding that there is an issue is essential to finding a solution. By trying, they were learning about the challenges, the requirements on the process, tools and what to aim for.

For young and agile industries there is no excuse for not getting started with virtual engineering efforts from day one - don’t wait. It is more problematic for mature organizations with processes set in stone and legacy that needs to be protected. Achieving the digital twin might be a necessity for a company’s future success, but take care when changing processes not to bite the hand that feeds you. There is no magic formula. Get started! To reach the digital twin you must struggle, fail and rise. The quest for another Holy Grail and the struggle of the Black Knight from ”Monty Python and the Holy Grail” comes to mind. 

Black Knight:”’Tis but a scratch”King Arthur:”A scratch? Your arm’s off!”

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