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This content is part of the Essential Guide: IIoT use cases put spotlight on IoT benefits, challenges
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Why is digital twin technology important for manufacturing's future?

The industrial IoT landscape and the concept of Industry 4.0 both rely heavily on digital twins to push them forward. Here's some explanation of why that is.

The digitization of manufacturing is firmly established as the future direction of manufacturing technology, including in the industrial internet of things and Industry 4.0 -- and digital twin technology is key. Think of the digital twin as the embodiment of these megatrends.

Digital twin technology is not an application that you can buy from your ERP or computer-aided design (CAD) system supplier. It is a concept that is embodied in your approach to product lifecycle management and digital manufacturing. CAD typically creates the digital twin -- the basic identity and definition of the digital object. From that point on, data is collected into and linked to the digital twin.

In essence, a digital twin is the virtual representation of a physical product with data linking the two. A digital twin is created in CAD and modeling software that designers and engineers use in the early stage of product development, which is kept for later stages of the product lifecycle.

Digital twin technology enables an electronic description of a physical part or product. Sensors can collect data from the physical product and send it back to the digital twin, and this communication can help optimize the product's performance. In essence, it is the "container" for all of the digital information that is accumulated from initial design, development, manufacturing, distribution, use, maintenance and disposal for the life of the item.

By linking all information together within a single identity, digital twin technology becomes the basis for all support and maintenance, further development and engineering, and overall management of the item or product. In this age of the industrial internet of things and digital manufacturing, the biggest challenge many companies face is making use of the big data flooding our systems and networks. The digital twin offers an anchor and organizing cross-reference link that can help give that data context and meaning.

This was last published in February 2018

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