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DT evolution in Manufacturing – IV

The Digital Twin evolution is described here in 5 stages for sake of clarity, although there are many greys and it might be difficult to assign a DT to a specific stage, since it may be in between two of them. Image credit: DRI IEEE

The evolution of Digital Twins, as schematically represented in figure above, can be “read” from different perspectives, like the evolution of:

  • the degree of representation of the physical entity
  • the interaction level among the physical entity and the DT
  • the relevance of the DT in the operation of the physical entity 
  • the functionality offered by the DT
  • the autonomy level of the DT

What is relevant to this discussion, however, is a different perspective, that is:

★ the transformation of the DT in a product by itself

Notice that this, in principles, applies to all stages represented in that figure. Indeed one could “sell” the digital model created in stage on as a blueprint that can be used by other companies, as well as “sell” (I am just providing examples here) a DT at stage 4 to a third party to embed additional function that spice up the physical entity (actually this would be a good way to promote a value added ecosystem on a product…).

This is a very significant change and it is a “fall-out” of the Digital Transformation.

By shifting processes, assets and part of the manufacturing “output” to the cyberspace, the product resulting from the manufacturing process may be partly in the physical space (as before) and partly in the cyberspace. In this latter case it can be a Digital Twin.

Indeed, if we look at the manufacturing process we have digital twins of the tools used, like of the robots in the assembly line, of the factory (mirroring the whole process/processes) and we have the digital twin (instance) of the product that is created and “manufactured” along the physical product itself.

This aspect becomes particularly relevant once we are dealing with stage 3 onwards. A digital twin at stage 3 interacts with the physical product and it might embed functionalities designed to smooth its operation and to monitor / provide maintenance. At stage 4 it can augment the functionality of the physical entity and at stage 5 it can have functionality independent of the physical entity.

All these functionalities can be construed as “services” and be sold with the physical entity, after the sale of the physical entity or, even, independently of the physical entity (DT at stage 5).

As a matter of fact one can envisage in the (near) future a decoupling between the soft side of a product (a DT) and the hard component. This decoupling may result in some industries focussing on manufacturing the soft part and others the hard one. That is, obviously, the case of smartphones, tablets, personal computers where you have a full decoupling between the application part and the “device”, each one being manufactured by different parties. A standardised platform (the OS in the examples mentioned) ensures that soft goes hand in hand with hard. The soft part, the DT, can be the real features provider using the hard part as an interface to deliver the features.

However, what I am pointing out here is that as manufacturing is reshaped through the Digital Transformation, the Industry should look at ways to exploit the cyberspace. Having to create a Digital Twin of the Manufacturing process and along with it of the product (since the product’s DT is used to steer the manufacturing) it makes sense to think of this DT not as a tool, rather as a product in itself and leverage the opportunity.

This, however, means that Manufacturing creates both products and services and in turns this requires a different set of business models and business processes.

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.

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