Ever heard of the digital twin? I have, everywhere. It’s discussed in technical magazines and newspapers. On blogs and company websites. In meetings and by the coffee machine. It’s often mentioned in the context of innovation, Internet-of-Things (IoT) or artificial intelligence, but everyone seems to have their own opinion of what it means. What is this mysterious concept all about?

A digital twin is defined as a digital representation of a physical product or process. The idea behind the term is to let a real object exchange data with a virtual counterpart. By doing so, analysis can be made on the virtual entity, enabling predictivity and proactive decisions. This modern digital twin concept was first introduced in 2002 by Dr. Michael Grieves of the University of Michigan as the Conceptual Ideal for PLM. However, the technology behind isn’t necessarily new. Simulation and other computer-aided development methods have been around since the 1960s. New or not, the concept is evolving with time and will most certainly continue to grow. The digital twin market is said to double in size in the years to come.

The appearance and applications of a digital twin will differ depending on industry and company function. In a typical manufacturing company, products are developed, manufactured, and later sold to and operated by customers. Digital representations are useful through this entire product lifecycle. Product twins enable virtual prototyping in the development phase. Process twins enable virtual production planning in the manufacturing phase. Customer facing operational twins enable analytics and autonomy during the utilization of the product. Together these virtual replicas describe how the product evolves during its lifecycle. From its conceptual development phase, all the way to its disposal.

Realizing these digital twins are crucial for achieving the next level of digital transformation, in large enterprises as well as in smaller businesses. In practice, it doesn’t matter what we call them. What is important is that we understand their differences and adopt a company strategy that embraces them all. 

This mysterious concept is indeed confusing! The digital twin isn’t a twin at all. It’s an entire lifecycle!

Want to learn more about the digital twin? Check out the Twin lifecycle workshop!

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