Digital Twins as independent economic entities
Digital Twins are evolving rapidly. It started in the last decade with them being used as digital “mock-ups”, created by CAD systems. These mock-ups were refined till they could be used as digital specs for interaction with various groups in the company and with suppliers. The use of VR makes easier to visualise the Digital Twin of a future product.
Although that was not the case, one can find an economic value in these Digital Twins as “blueprints” that can be sold. This will be the case in this and the next decade as result of the market created by the Digital Transformation with companies buying and using these digital specs.
The second step was the use of the Digital Twins to create their physical counterpart, through CAM systems (Computer Aided Manufacturing). In this way a direct correspondence was established between a Digital Twin and its Physical Twin. Therefore one could use the Digital Twin as documentation of the Physical Object during operation and maintenance. The use of AR makes this correlation quite effective, since at the same time a technician will be able to look at the physical engine and get information from its Digital Twin that can be overlaid on the physical one through real time rendering.
This role in assisted operation and maintenance will become much more common as AR technology progresses. So far it is used in industrial environment but in the coming years it will become a common way of interacting with products and that will generate an additional economic benefit.
A further step was taken, and it is still being taken, enabling interaction between the digital twin and its physical twin. In this case we are dealing with digital twin instance and physical instance of a product/object. The interaction (shadowing) ensure the alignment between the Digital and Physical twins. At this point either the Digital Twin itself (in reality an extended digital twin) or applications interacting with the Digital Twin can deliver services, value, to the physical twin. There will be a progressive augmentation of a Digital Twin capabilities as it will not just interact with its physical counterpart but also with applications and services in the cyberspace. In this sense the Digital Twin becomes a gateway between the physical counterpart and the cyberspace, a tool to deliver value. This is clearly a significant, transformational, step for companies making it possible to deliver services on a product in a seamless way. We are already seeing some examples of this happening. Remember when downloading a new version of an Operating System required the reinstallation of applications and some personal data? Now this is no longer the case since our devices have a mirror image that is used when a new OS is installed. This mirror image is a sort of Digital Twin. A number of manufacturers, like GE, Mevea, Siemens, are now offering along with their products remote monitoring and proactive maintenance services based on the Digital Twin of their products. This changes the rules of the game since now the manufacturer has direct interaction with the end user (the flattening of the value chain that is one of the characteristics of Industry 4.0).
The next step will be the use of the Digital Twin to deliver additional functionality. In this case the operation of a product requires its digital twin since some of its features are made possible through its Digital Twin. In practice, there is a function splitting among the physical and the digital twin. This, per sé, is nothing new: already today we have some functions split between the device and the cyberspace (voice recognition is often the case), so that a service may be partially be delivered through real time interaction with a cloud.
This opens up the door to the “independent” exploitation of a digital twin by having it enabling functionalities to third parties (no longer, solely, to its physical twin). In other words, a Digital Twin may deliver services that in part are derived from its knowledge of its physical twin. An example would be a digital twin that has accumulated experience on the use of a car and can “sell” this experience to third parties interested in getting real feedback from the market. Another example might be the use of a Digital Twin as an avatar of a person. This will be addressed in the next post.