The Manufacturing industry has been the first to adopt the technology of Digital Twins. No surprise since the use of CAD for product design and for the shop floor design is rooted in the last century. It was a simple, natural, step to take the digital model produced by CAD and use it for simulation, then for steering digital lathes and then robots to manufacture the various components and assemble them into the finished product. As IoTs became part of the toolkit and started to be disseminated in the shop floor supporting monitoring, control, operation and maintenance and then became embedded in the product it was a small step to associate all those data to the digital model giving rise to the digital twin.
As the DT is being used in more extensive ways it is evolving, as previously discussed, and manufacturing is still in the lead. As shown in the graphic, DTs are becoming autonomous (represented with a double circle) and smarter, both thanks to access to external intelligence and to embedded intelligence. What is notable is the evolution of the “external intelligence”. Whilst it used to be an intelligence provided by a specific application running on a platform (in the factory or in the cloud) in the future we are going to se swarm intelligence taking up, that is the intelligence that is emerging as result of the interaction of several entities (more or less intelligent on their own. Swarm intelligence does not require, per sé, intelligent entities as long as there are many of them, think about bees and ants…).
Robotic Process Automation will be relying more and more on this type of swarm intelligence (given the limited number of robots involved, each of them needs to have some degree of local intelligence). Logistic chain (including smart warehouse and smart receiving dispatching docks tied to internal factory processes) will also start to benefit from this kind of swarm intelligence.
On the shop floor, the advent of co-bots, robots that can cooperate with people, is also paving the way towards a cooperation among PDTs and robots DTs. In perspective we could foresee that only the PDT of an expert technicians will be needed in the virtual space of the shop floor to interact with the robots DTs as needed.
Connection with the DTs using Augmented and Virtual Reality is also being driven by the manufacturing world and this will also be an initial step into the industrial metaverse.