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Megatrends for this decade – XVI

Digital Twins are being used across the value chain. In the design phase a digital twin represents the virtual product and, in most instances, the design of the Digital Twin is the design of the product. Image credit: Siemens

b) design through Digital Twins

Digital Twins have become an integral part of the manufacturing process, being used both as a tool and as a mirror of the product being manufactured. Actually, several companies are now starting to use digital twins in the design phase and in doing so they also create the digital twin of the virtual product.

The use of CAD – Computer Aided Design- has become much more sophisticated. Born as a drawing tools for engineers they have become platforms for product design. As such they embed all features/resources and constraints that characterise a given manufacturing process. In this sense the designer “cannot” design a product that would not be possible to manufacture by the present manufacturing processes/resources. In case the designer wants to enforce a characteristics that cannot be implemented in the current framework a red flag is raised and will need to be resolved before the design can reach the approval stage. Interestingly. some of these “platforms” allow simulation on the go, meaning that as a product characteristic/feature is being designed it can be emulated against a context (like existing components or part of the operation environment) simulating the interactions, the use of shared resources, the overall impact, thus providing immediate feedback on what it would look like. This emulation is created by the “under-construction” digital twin of the virtual product.

IoTs in a city generates plenty of data streams that effectively provide a shadowing making it possible to keep the Digital Twin of the city in synch with the status of the city in quasi real time. The data are recorded, creating a Digital Thread and the whole is used through machine learning to create an emerging intelligence. Image credit: Microsoft

An interesting example is provided by the Municipality of Singapore: since 2019 they have created the Singapore Digital Twin. When a company wants to build something -like a new mall-, deploy a service -like said elf driving taxis-, it is required to present the project in terms of a digital twin. This digital twin will be embedded in the Singapore framework, interacting with the Singapore Digital Twin. Out of this interaction the Municipality is able to spot potential issues and request changes to the presented project.

More than that. A city Digital Twin can be used to provide a living snapshot of the city. As such it can be used by citizens for better awareness on what is going on. That same Digital Twin can be used by a service developer to interact with the city in the cyberspace in the crafting of the service (in the previous paragraph it was the Municipality that used the service Digitall Twin to assess its operation vs the city, here it is the reverse, the use of the DT to develop a service).

By the end of this decade we can expect a cyberspace populated by Digital Twins, mirroring both artefacts and people. They will provide a dynamic backdrop usable for the development of products and services.  Furthermore, the Personal Digital Twins may be used as interface component by several services (and for the soft part of products), in the same way that your smartphone is often used as interface to products and services.


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 New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. 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.