Digital twins are gaining importance

Digital twins are gaining importance

Munich, November 19, 2018

Once upon a time, the digital mock-up (DMU) was considered a complete digital image of a future product. The automotive industry rightly saw itself as a pioneer of digital progress, because bringing such a complex product as a petrol-run car with its thousands of individual parts and components as a 3D model onto the screen in the nineties was a special achievement. At that time, the geometry, the external shape and the mechanical properties were the most important thing about the products.

PLM soon helped in a limited number of companies to manage such complex models with all their relationships and in all their development variants centrally throughout their life cycle. This is by no means state of the art in half of German industrial companies today, but the horizon has long since shifted considerably again.

At first, complexity grew through mechatronics, and more and more products became a mix of mechanics, electrics, electronics and software. Then came the Internet of Things – in Germany under the slogan Industrie 4.0 – and gradually the value-added shifts from production to the areas of using the connected products and their integrated services. Now we are talking about digitalization, about the digital transformation of the industry. And now, for a digital twin, the 3D model is by no means enough for its geometry any more.

Even the debate about the meaning of the term "Digital Twin" makes it clear how extensive the virtual shadows of real products have become. Some companies talk about the digital thread that you can follow through the whole life of a product. Others insist that there must be numerous digital twins of the same product: in development, in production, in use and networking, and perhaps in some other fields that in turn require a special twin.

Why is that important? Why does the digital twin play such a big role? Because it is up to him how quickly the product gets online, how it works, what services it has to offer, how well it meets the needs of customers and/or users. Because almost all qualities and functions of a modern product can be simulated with the help of digital twins long before the completion and commissioning from all conceivable perspectives. Often, then, the simulation leads to the discovery of completely new possibilities, and maybe the originally recorded requirements are adapted accordingly. Market launch, quality and product characteristics are increasingly dependent on how well digital twins work during engineering and all other phases of the lifecycle.

Because the last step – perhaps more and more the most important one in the future – is the return of operating data, measurement results, wear out data and other things into the engineering processes and their provision for other tasks. The multidirectional gambling with the data from development, production, assembly and operation only works with digital twins. Their quality seal becomes the seal of approval of a digital industrial enterprise.

This rapidly grown topic is in the center of this section of "Background" of the PLMportal. An article about the digital twins at Siemens PLM Software was created last year and is to be found in the section "PLM and the future of the digitalized industry". This year, another was added about the SAP Leonardo strategy. Presently, the sendler\circle is discussing a term formulation of “digital twin” that is generally accepted by IT and service providers. The result will also be published here in this section within the next few months. Other reports are in planning.

Anyone who has had experience with the digital twin in his company or in an institute or has something to contribute to this discussion is cordially invited to send me corresponding contributions, so that I can make them also accessible to the general public here.

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