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Digital Twins: where we are where we go – V

Digital Twins mirror the physical world and have an impact on the way we design, manufacture, operate and perceive products, services and eventually the world itself. Image credit: PTC


Digital Twins are becoming an integral part of the Digital Transformation and basically any area that can be affected by the Digital Transformation may see the application of Digital Twins.

On the one hand, Digital Twins derive from the digitalization of specification, design and manufacturing processes and they are kept alive by a pervasive communication fabric that connects the products embedded IoT with the Digital Twin. In turns, this stimulates the transformation of products into services.

This latter is clearly an opportunity for companies to monetize the investment beyond the sale of the product. At the same time it generates data leading to continuous improvement in the manufacturing process and in the product (subsequent releases). This is in line with the paradigm of Industry 4.0.

The shift from product to services is bound to benefit the environment as well since the life time of a product is extended, less raw material needs to be consumed (to create replacement products) and less material needs to be recycled.

A further impact resulting both for “servitization” and from the existence of a Digital Twin that can deliver additional capabilities (Digital Twin at stage 4) is the stimulus to third parties in developing additional features. This clearly requires an open framework for the development of (soft) adds-on and a certain degree of standardization. This latter can be the result of the opening of the ecosystem by the company manufacturing the product or can be the consequence of the product being compliant to a certain platform (as it is the case for smartphone, where the platform is both the operating system –like Android and IoS- and the marketplace –Android and iTunes).

An interesting analyses on the expected impact of Digital Twins in the various parts of a product/system life cycle. Image credit: Reboot Online

The effectiveness of Digital Twins in manufacturing is prompting their adoption in other areas, like healthcare and education. In both there is a shift from the modelling of “objects” and/or “processes” to the modelling of a person (in healthcare Digital Twins are already used in modelling hospitals and complex medical devices but here I am referring to the modeling of patients).

The approach of modeling a person is not new and does not necessarily involve a Digital Twin. In the healthcare area, as an example, pharma is modeling organs and more recently bodies (several organs) to experiment the effect of drugs both in the search for new drugs and in the evaluation of the effectiveness of a drug on a specific patient (cancer treatment is more and more based on this sort of modelling). The use of Digital Twins to model a person, however, is shifting the focus from atoms to bits. This provides several advantages (cost, speed…) but at the same time is creating new issues, as I will discuss in the next section. For sure we can say that the possibility to use a digital twin flanking us can have significant impact on our life, relieving us of some burden and improving our effectiveness in several areas.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.