The digital twin… what is it? As the name suggests, a digital twin is a digital replica of a physical asset, whether that is a product, person, place or system.
Gartner defines a digital twin as a software design pattern that represents a physical object with the objective of understanding the asset’s state, responding to changes, improving business operations and adding value.
The link to the Internet of Things (IoT) is evident: digital twins can help reveal how an IoT device operates and lives throughout its life cycle.
IoT ushering in the era of physical/digital convergence
Digital twins entering the mainstream
Currently, according to Gartner, 13% of organisations implementing IoT projects already use digital twins, while 62% are either in the process of establishing digital twin use or plan to do so.
“The results — especially when compared with past surveys — show that digital twins are slowly entering mainstream use,” said Benoit Lheureux, research vice president at Gartner. “We predicted that by 2022, over two-thirds of companies that have implemented IoT will have deployed at least one digital twin in production. We might actually reach that number within a year.”
There are two reasons for this sudden digital twin demand. First, digital twins are delivering tangible business value and have become essential to IoT and digital strategies. Second, the rapid growth in adoption is due to, in part, extensive marketing and education by technology vendors, according to Gartner.
“We see digital twin adoption in all kinds of organisations. However, manufacturers of IoT-connected products are the most progressive, as the opportunity to differentiate their product and establish new service and revenue streams is a clear business driver,” Lheureux said.
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Digital twins serve across the business
Gartner have suggested that a key factor for enterprises implementing IoT is that their digital twins serve different constituencies inside and outside the organisation.
In fact, 54% of respondents reported that while most of their digital twins serve only one constituency, sometimes there digital twins served multiple; nearly a third stated that either most or all their digital twins served multiple constituencies. For example, the constituencies of a connected car digital twin can include the manufacturer, a customer service provider and the insurance company, each with a need for different IoT data.
When asked for examples of digital twin constituencies, replies to Gartner’s survey varied widely, ranging from internal IoT data consumers, such as employees or security over commercial partners to technology providers. “These findings show that digital twins serve a wide range of business objectives,” said Lheureux. “Designers of digital twins should keep in mind that they will probably need to accommodate multiple data consumers and provide appropriate data access points.”
It makes sense: integrate digital twins
When an organisation has multiple digital twins deployed, it makes sense to integrate them. Gartner points to the example of a power plant that has IoT-connected industrial valves, pumps and generators. There is a role for digital twins for each piece of equipment, as well as a composite digital twin, which aggregates IoT data across the equipment to analyse overall operations.
Despite this setup being complex, 61% of companies that have implemented digital twins have already integrated at least one pair of digital twins with each other, and even more — 74% of organisations that have not yet integrated digital twins — will do so in the next five years.
However, this result also means that 39% of respondents have not yet integrated any digital twins; of those, 26% still do not plan to do so in five years.
“What we see here is that digital twins are increasingly deployed in conjunction with other digital twins for related assets or equipment,” said Lheureux.
“However, true integration is still relatively complicated and requires high-order integration and information management skills. The ability of to integrate digital twins with each other will be a differentiating factor in the future, as physical assets and equipment evolve.”