Demystifying Digital Twins: Your Top 5 Questions Answered

Thomas Ohnemus

Stagnation. Successful businesses won’t tolerate it. Instead of standing still and conducting business as usual, today’s top companies constantly strive to improve their products, services, and processes.

To keep forging ahead, organizations are turning to technologies like digital twins, which help companies reimagine existing manufacturing processes and revolutionize product design through live engineering.

And while digital twins have been touted as a top strategic technology trend by Gartner and other prominent firms, many businesses have yet to embrace this game-changing innovation.

That’s because they don’t know how to get started, don’t understand how digital twins work, or don’t realize how this new technology could benefit their enterprises.

Does your organization need help demystifying digital twins? Here are answers to five of the top questions surrounding this exciting new technology:

1. What is a digital twin?

A digital twin is a virtual representation of a real-life physical product. It could be a car, a chair, a desk, a lamp. It could even be a person. Anything that exists in the physical world can be replicated as a digital twin.

Digital twins provide insight on how your products are operating in real time. They also present businesses with an opportunity to enhance their items from a remote location.

2. How can you create a digital twin?

The first step in creating a digital twin is representing all the components of an existing physical product in a virtual proxy. Given the complex nature of the product you’re replicating, there could be thousands of disparate parts that represent the style and structure of the product.

Creating a digital twin of a car, for instance, would require emulating the shape of the vehicle, the tires, the seats, the mirrors. But things get really interesting under the hood, where the inner workings of the engine must all be accounted for: the cylinder block, the pistons, the crankshaft, the valves, the spark plugs, and so on.

Once you’ve identified and described in a structured way all the different components of the physical product you’re emulating with a digital twin, it’s time to design a 3D model. An accurate and comprehensive 3D model will enable you to visualize how your physical product is performing and changing in the moment.

A 3D model of a car, for example, can show you how a vehicle is braking or accelerating, allowing you to identify whether you need to make improvements.

In case of brand-new products, the digital definition gets started first, while the physical product comes to life through the manufacturing process, and in the operation phase, the physical product feeds the digital twin with real live data.

3. How do digital twins work?

Digital twins are powered by Internet of Things (IoT) sensor data. By attaching an IoT-enabled sensor to a physical product, you can measure the data emanating from an asset in real time. Collecting this data in a digital twin is crucial to enabling quick decision making and maintaining the health of your products.

If the temperature of a car engine is approaching dangerous levels, your digital twin could alert the manufacturer, as well as the driver, of this alarming condition. Analyzing this IoT sensor data in a digital twin will not only allow you to rectify the situation immediately, but it will also enable you to test specific alterations before carrying out actual repairs on the physical product.

Without an exact replica of your physical product, it’s difficult to pinpoint the precise location of the problem in the first place – let alone address it.

4. Do digital twins present any challenges?

The single greatest challenge with a digital twin is that one size does not fit all. In other words, you need a digital twin for every single product you manufacture. That’s because every product operates differently, especially if there’s a human involved in its operation.

Again, take cars.

Thousands of vehicles are produced using an identical manufacturing process. But because no two drivers are completely alike – some drive slow and cautiously, others drive fast and recklessly – each car will perform differently. It’s important to understand how each individual driver operates their vehicle – as these details shed light on why an engine is repeatedly overheating or why tires are losing their tread faster than normal.

5. How can you use digital twins to enable live engineering?

As products are used, patterns emerge from the data. Engineers can study these insights in digital twins to create additional value for users by making improvements to future product designs.

Based on data they’ve collected from aggressive drivers, product engineers can design car engines that don’t overheat as quickly or easily. They can analyze how far drivers are pushing their engines and make enhancements so newer engines can withstand those extreme conditions.

You may be closer to using digital twins than you think

Your company’s digital transformation won’t be complete until you’ve embraced digital twins. Fortunately, you may already have the pieces in place to leverage the technology. You just may not refer to it by that name. But if your business possesses a digital description of your products, you’re well on your way to realizing value from digital twin technology.

So what are you waiting for? Get started today. Begin small – and in no time, you’ll realize the big impact that digital twins can have on your business.

To learn more, register for the Network of Digital Twins Infobrief by IDC.


Thomas Ohnemus

About Thomas Ohnemus

Thomas Ohnemus is the Vice President, Solution Marketing, Customer Value Office, at SAP. He is responsible for driving the go-to-market strategy, messaging, and demand generation. Thomas has over 25 years’ experience in business software solutions and his PLM expertise has awarded him key management positions in consulting, product management, service, and global marketing. He holds a master’s degree in engineering, and lives in Germany.