digital twin

Contributor(s): David Essex

A digital twin is a virtual representation of a product. It can be used in product design, simulation, monitoring, optimization and servicing and is an important concept in the industrial Internet of Things.

Digital twins are created in the same computer-aided design (CAD) and modeling software that designers and engineers use in the early stages of product development. The difference with a digital twin is that the model is retained for later stages of the product's lifecycle, such as inspection and maintenance.

According to product lifecycle management (PLM) expert Michael Grieves, who was among the first to use the term, the concept of the digital twin requires three elements: the physical product in real space, its digital twin in virtual space and the information that links the two.

Sensors connected to the physical product can collect data and send it back to the digital twin, and their interaction can help optimize the product's performance. For example, sensors might detect when a car's engine oil needs changing, and the car's digital twin will have an overlay image indicating the new information, which can appear on the owner's smartphone or the manufacturer's PLM system. Some manufacturers, including power tool maker Black & Decker, have extended the digital twin concept to encompass assembly lines and other factory systems.

The same images overlaid with real-time sensor data can be used in augmented reality (AR) applications for product maintenance and field service. In AR, the digital twin must be able to follow the product's location and movement.

This was last updated in May 2016

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