What is a “digital twin?”

Concepts and Definitions

General Information

Effectively, it’s a computer model of a physical thing. That model is not like taking a picture of the physical thing, it’s a set of business logic and rules that define how that thing operates. This is so that you can simulate the operation of that thing without actually doing it in the real world. It’s like a virtualized version of a physical thing. The idea is that you are able to maintain that model – the virtual model, the twin – in such a way that that it reflects the physical thing that it’s mapped to. So, it’s one of those things that people tend to talk about, but it’s not something that you will find widely deployed because it’s incredibly complicated and expensive to do. The more elaborate the physical thing is, the more complicated and expensive it is to build and maintain a digital twin.

So, if you have a fairly simple physical thing – like let’s say it’s a generator – and you’ve got several sensors on that generator, you could build a digital twin of that generator that will allow you to simulate certain aspects of that generator so you can do things like – what happens if I run it at 110% of its capacity for a year? Probably don’t want to do that with your real generator, but you could do it with a digital twin and the theory is that if the computer model is accurate enough, then you will usually get data out of the model that is representative and fairly accurate of what would happen in the real world. That’s the basic idea of a digital twin.

It can get more complex than that, though, because they can also simulate what would happen if there were physical modifications made to the physical thing. In that case, the modifications to the physical item would also have those same modifications made in the computer to the digital twin. Then you could have an entire fleet of physical generators, all with their own modifications, and then a digital twin for each of those generators in the computer, where each digital twin is an exact duplicate of its specific generator and you can just make the modifications in the computer to each one before you make that modification to the physical generator.

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