The concept of digital twins has been around since the 1970s, but more recently we’ve started to see rapid adoption of the technology in a number of scenarios. With organizations in energy, transport, manufacturing, medicine and others creating digital twins to help understand how specific processes, instruments, even people will react to changing situations.
What are digital twins?
What are digital twins? Simply put a digital twin is a virtual replica of physical thing – whether that’s a process, product or even a person. The digital twin is created using real-time data from connected sensors on the physical asset, which can then evolve using machine learning and simulation. Digital twins allow us to see what’s going on with the physical asset in the real world right now, but also how it might react in the future too. While it sounds like the stuff of Sci-Fi – it really isn’t. It’s here and now.
IoT sensors are already collecting data on real-world machines for analysis in cloud environments. Building a digital twin for each machine is a cost-effective addition to an already connected model and will help businesses like manufacturers to improve machines and processes in the supply chain.
According to GlobalData there are three key technology trends currently driving the adoption of digital twins.
5G into 6G – as the networks are rolled out and embraced, digital twins will be able to take advantage of the high-speed wireless connectivity they offer without ‘temporal or spatial’ constraints. This will deliver data in real time back to the virtual twin
Digital relationships and partnerships – those organizations working in specific sectors are working together to deliver concepts for digital twins. This is already happening in the energy industry for example, where the partnerships ‘help oil and gas companies to improve asset performance
Personalized medicine – digital twins are widely used in testing to validate drug candidates. It won’t be long before we see a digital twin for patients created and then tested with 1,000s of drugs to see which provide the best result
How can I use digital twins?
There are numerous benefits and applications of digital twins. Business Intelligence (BI) leaders can use digital twins to optimize IoT applications and get the most out of their data by clarifying what IoT application will deliver the most impact to their physical counterpart.
Digital twins can also streamline the delivery of real-world IoT data. With digital twin systems designed to match the physical machines, data latency is minimized.
For those in engineering, manufacturing and testing, digital twins are a game changer. They let you apply and test changes to the digital asset before they’re applied to the physical version. This lets you see the impact and costs of other connected systems and the environment the machine works in. Predictive monitoring and maintenance of remote IoT assets or sensors is simplified as well. Using the virtual replica, you can review and predict likely faults or errors before they occur.
When combining the twin data with business rules, optimization algorithms or other prescriptive analytics technologies, digital twins can also support human decision making or even automate decision making.
This is especially useful in IoT environments, where data from machines can be fed directly into the integrated digital twin and business intelligence solutions. IoT sensors allow BI solutions to pinpoint problem areas and opportunities to optimize, before developing a comprehensive solution on which manufacturers can act.
What’s their future application?
While currently digital twin solutions are being adopted to ensure the integrity of a physical asset, it’s likely in the future that we’ll witness integration of the twins themselves, as we need to map increasingly integrated application environments.
If that sounds complicated, it’s not. It’s through edge analytics solutions – specifically, IoT-edge computing frameworks – that companies will be able to realize their ideal digital twin integrations. Using IoT Edge Frameworks – like Eurotech Everyware Software Framework – can help to simplify the concept of digital twins of real assets.
Designers, engineers and producers of machines have long recognized the value of being able to simulate physical assets on software on a computer screen. NASA scientists first looked at the concept fifty years ago, but with the increasing adoption of IoT and edge computing the value of digital twins in understanding and identifying product (and human) reactions is easier than you think.
Contact us to find out more about how digital twins can help your business.
The Internet of Things (IoT) has brought a lot of benefits and disruptive innovations. Despite this, there are 3 main IoT project risks that prevent companies from adopting IoT solutions:
lack of open standards;
integrating legacy M2M/OT equipment with IoT applications.
Driverless cars, fitness trackers, smart manufacturing, precision farming, connected clothing, smart meters that measure utilities, smart sensors to detect mechanical failures, medical devices that can monitor diseases – everywhere you look around the globe there is talk about the Internet of Things.
IoT’s potential is endless. It changes the way that businesses, government agencies and consumers operate and interact to drive new business opportunities; it increases profits, lowers operating costs and increases productivity . Demand for connected devices is growing exponentially. Many companies – from large, multinational enterprise to SMEs – are all looking to capitalize on this trend.
Let’s analyze the 3 major IoT project risks and the way to avoid them. This would allow companies to start integrating IoT solutions and embracing digital transformation.
IoT security: the number one IoT project risk
One of the problems that companies are facing with the growth of IoT is security. Connected devices are being developed at a very fast pace with a general lack of security standards or protocols. Companies must look for smart products with security in mind from day one when adopting IoT solutions. This will avoid the risk of breach vulnerabilities.
Security is a major IoT project risk and is today a more complex task. IoT devices are connected and interconnected into a network and are designed to collect and store increasing amount of data – even sensitive ones. Moreover, smart devices need to connect to each other, to the Internet and to the cloud to exchange data. IoT security issues must be addressed at all levels, from the edge to the cloud.
In earlier years firewall perimeters and virtual private networks enabled IT security. The widespread use of mobile phones, connected applications and the increased level of sophistication of the attackers has led to breaches in those fortified perimeters.
Because of the lack of best practices, security could dramatically increase the cost of IoT projects. Moreover, this lack of IoT security has the potential to scare users away from adopting IoT technologies.
If companies, government organizations and consumers cannot trust that their data is safe, they will become discouraged at the thought of adopting IoT solutions and buy smart devices. Once the breaches begin, adoption of IoT devices is sure to slow down.
Securing IoT devices is not a simple task, especially when projects employ large, globally-distributed deployments. A single security product solution cannot enable end-to-end security: there is no silver bullet. It is essential to look at the entire system. Security must be a fundamental part of the overall architecture of an IoT project, i.e. be built in, not added afterwards.
Lack of open standards
Most IoT edge solutions are based on the integration of sensors, actuators, PLCs, field buses and protocols. Quite often, the specific combination of new and legacy OT technology is the first challenge to overcome when creating an IoT solution.
For example, PLCs are normally connected through serial or LAN interfaces using field-bus communications protocols. While some of these technologies and protocols are open standards, there are literally hundreds that are proprietary and specific to vendors and vertical solutions. Examples in the industrial domain there are field protocols like Modbus or OPC UA, in transportation CAN, or in energy M-Bus.
Since there are many different devices, operating systems and programming languages employed on edge infrastructures, the lack of open standards stands among major IoT project risks. It represents a barrier for companies. They would think that adopting IoT solutions is too complex and a waste of time and resources.
Again, the IoT security issue shows up when there is a lack of open standards. While plenty of standards exist in the traditional IT world, they have yet to be applied in a consistent manner; this would protect IoT devices – deployed at the edge – from breach.
This means that there is a very vulnerable IoT ecosystem with vendors using different hardware, software and third party services, as well as APIs and patch methods. To achieve IoT security, there is the need to establish solid solutions for device discovery with secure identity, authentication and encrypted communications or the underlying protocols are subject to abuse.
Improper security of just one device could result in situations where many other devices in the network become vulnerable. To succeed with IoT, end-to-end security must be a priority. Device manufacturers and software developers need a security model that has a foundation based on open and industry standards to ensure platform and vendor interoperability and incorporate best practices.
Connecting legacy equipment to IoT
To enable IoT solutions that integrate data collected in the field with enterprise IT applications, companies need to connect their legacy equipment (e.g. industrial machinery and PLCs, on-board and in-vehicle components, power meters, etc.) to the Internet.
The simplest, yet most expensive solution to ensure seamless integration between field equipment and IoT applications is to replace the old equipment with new, IoT-ready one. If a person wanted to remotely access and monitor his home heater, he could replace it with a more recent one. The new one would integrate an IoT gateway that can send temperature, consumption and other useful data to my smartphone and make them accessible on the vendor’s mobile app.
This is a so-called “greenfield” solution, and is ideal for newborn companies. For the vast majority of companies, to completely replace the old equipment is way too expensive; there is the need to adapt it to the IoT project requirements. It is therefore necessary to retrofit field assets with sensors or IoT smart devices and gateways. This again arises issues related to IoT security or to the lack of open standards.
In industrial applications in particular, M2M machinery and components (such as sensors, actuators and PLCs) communicate with different protocols. The majority of sensors and IoT gateway solutions are designed to target a specific set of protocols. This ends up having a crowd of devices with different protocols that need to be integrated and managed within the same IT/cloud application.
How to reduce IoT project risks and enhance IoT adoption?
Under the brand name of Everyware IoT, Eurotech integrates a set of hardware and software components to enable end-to-end IoT solutions. They are secure, completely managed, integrated and based on open standards.
Everyware IoT solves all the above-mentioned issues related to IoT projects adoption:
Eurotech’s hardware and software components are based on open standards and communication protocols; this allows easier integration with partners solution, enabling a flexible and modular approach to develop end-to-end IoT applications
Industrial automation is undergoing a digital revolution as ‘Industry 4.0’ and Digital Twin technologies introduce new and innovative ways to execute manufacturing processes.
With IoT, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and deep learning at the forefront, manufacturers will have spent close to $70 billion on these new technologies by 2020 to meet new demands.
Among these technologies, Digital Twin is changing how industrial manufacturers approach product design, operations, and post-sale services.
“Digital Twin solutions open new opportunities for industrial firms to speed up their Big Data- and AI-driven innovation transformation efforts,” Forrester reports.
A combination of vendor marketing and education—along with real-world benefits realized in Digital Twin use cases—are driving Digital Twin adoption among industrial manufacturers as they become an integral part of companies’ IoT and digital strategy investments.
What is a ‘Digital Twin’?
“Digital twins — digital representations of people, processes and things — will become more connected, providing a rich and real-time view of company processes and assets. Enterprise architecture and technology innovation leaders must plan for a diverse environment with integration challenges.”
Gartner, Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2019: Digital Twins, 2019
A ‘Digital Twin’ is a digital model of a real-life object, most often a physical machine. 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.”
For industrial manufacturers, a digital twin allows them to create digital models of real machines, then combine both digital and physical data to deliver a better understanding of the performance and potential value of those physical machines.
This applies to all aspects of the machine’s functionality—production, maintenance, user experience, and more.
Each Digital Twin is used as a proxy for a real machine, allowing manufacturers to test concepts and hypotheses before applying them to physical machines themselves.
This digital technique—called ‘encapsulation’—allows manufacturers to adapt the digital ‘machine’ before applying changes to real hardware, which is costly and may impact other connected systems.
Digital Twins therefore have a wide variety of benefits and applications. Manufacturers can simulate plans, processes, and systems with zero risk, helping them visualize any variety of new strategies—and their results—before investing real resources in their development.
Conceptually, Digital Twins are simple. There is one Digital Twin ‘per thing,’ and that Digital Twin is updated alongside the ‘thing.’
This allows for the best possible results during experimentation. But despite its simplicity, Digital Twins have a wide range of applications, and are suitable for just about any machine model.
How to use Digital Twin for industrial automation?
Digital Twins have proven especially useful when integrated with IoT systems in industrial manufacturing.
“We see digital twin adoption in all kinds of organizations,” says Benoit Lheureux, research vice president at Gartner. “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.”
This is especially critical as IoT becomes more commonplace in industrial manufacturing environments. IoT sensors are already collecting data on real-world machines for analysis in cloud environments—building a congruous Digital Twin with each machine is a cost-effective addition to this already connected model, and can only help manufacturers improve machines and processes in the supply chain.
“The Digital Twin is not a new idea: Designers and makers of machines have long recognized the value of being able to simulate those machines on a computer screen. But growing enthusiasm for connecting machines to the Internet of Things (IoT), and for delivering services instead of only selling products, means that the Digital Twin is becoming relevant to a broader audience.”
Forrester, “Digital Twins Combine Enterprise Data And IoT To Drive New Business Value,” 2019
In this way, Digital Twins significantly reduce the cost and work required to maintain and enhance physical things.
AI, machine learning, and deep learning allow for increased automation in these processes as well. Manufacturers can introduce new concepts in digital environments, then count on digital tools to both optimize them and execute them among their physical counterparts.
Digital Twin and industrial automation use cases
Industrial automation streamlines processes in multiple manufacturing environments and use cases, and its integration with Digital Twins is no exception. Humans can manipulate digital environments, suggest or make changes, and introduce additional resources to optimize Digital Twin (and subsequently machine) performance.
Industrial automation allows for these processes to unfold automatically in digital environments before applying new revelations to physical ones. This relieves humans of these responsibilities but safeguarding equipment until automated solutions are confirmed in digital environments.
As Gartner describes, “When combining the twin data with business rules, optimization algorithms or other prescriptive analytics technologies, digital twins can support human decisions or even automate decision making.”
This is especially useful in IoT environments, where data from machines can be fed directly into integrated Digital Twin and business intelligence (BI) solutions. IoT sensors allow BI solutions to pinpoint problem areas and opportunities to optimize, before developing a comprehensive solution on which manufacturers can act.
In one scenario, a Digital Twin for industrial robots was implemented. The Digital Twin allowed manufacturers to program the robots offline for multiple scenarios, where virtual commissioning of the system could be tested.
This dramatically speeds up testing processes and minimizes downtime for the physical machines themselves, “resulting in a higher availability as well as a higher reliability with less failure risk.” The introduction of automation into this scenario rapidly speeds up the virtual commissioning process, delivering results faster and with greater efficacy.
As machines provide real-time feedback via IoT into a Digital Twin, manufacturers can use the Digital Twin to automated predictive aspects of machine performance and maintenance.
In another scenario, the Digital Twin of a locomotive can analyze real-time and historical data and provide recommendations about on-board system status for predictive maintenance and remote monitoring, with minimal human oversight.
The shared evolution of industrial automation, IoT and Digital Twin technologies
“The rise of Digital Twins coincides with the rise of the IoT. When buying machines and other assets, support for Digital Twins and continuous development of twin capabilities should be a selection factor.”
IoT empowers industrial manufacturers to learn more about their equipment and better understand processes in real time. However, IoT adds a new layer of complexity to manufacturing environments, where the optimal application and investment strategy for IoT sensors isn’t always clear upfront.
Industrial BI leaders can use Digital Twins to optimize IoT applications and get the most out of their data. Unlike incongruous systems, Digital Twins help manufacturers improve their IoT strategy, clarifying what are the highest-impact IoT applications to render desirable results in Digital Twin environments that reflect their physical counterparts.
Digital Twins streamline the delivery of real-world IoT data as well, where Digital Twin systems are designed to be congruous with those of physical machines. This is a desirable alternative to discerning IoT data in other analytical environments, where the data must be processed to suit the system.
Manufacturers and other companies are realizing the value of marrying IoT and Digital Twin technologies. Already, 13% of organizations implementing IoT projects use at least one Digital Twin; 62% are either establishing or plan to establish a Digital Twin alongside IoT processes, Gartner reports.
Optimizing Digital Twin with manufacturing intelligence
“Rapidly expanding Internet of Things and analytics programs powered by machine learning and artificial intelligence — as well as improving models and simulations — mean that Digital Twins are coming to fill a number of roles. And they’re going to make life better.”
Forbes, How Orlando’s Work with Digital Twins May Change How We Engineer Everything,” 2019
Industrial manufacturers have already identified dozens of successful use cases for automated and BI tools like machine learning, AI, and deep learning systems.
Digital Twins lend themselves to these environments as they connect seamlessly in existing machine applications. They simply serve as an alternative to physical machines in the application of these technologies to optimize results.
Scholars define this application as an ‘Intelligent Digital Twin’. It “consists of all the characteristics of a Digital Twin as well as artificial intelligence to realize an autonomous system”:
The Intelligent Digital Twin can therefore implement machine learning algorithms on available models and data of the Digital Twin to optimize operation as well as continuously test what-if-scenarios, paving the way for predictive maintenance and an overall more flexible and efficient production through plug and produce scenarios.
Automation Technology, “An architecture of an Intelligent Digital Twin in a Cyber-Physical Production System,” 2019
The introduction of automation allows manufacturers to increasingly remove human beings from processes where they are no longer required, instead applying human resources only to mission critical areas in much larger processes.
In this way, Digital Twins can realize their true potential—simulating vast industrial environments with intense precision, and without increasing workloads for human workers.
Conclusion: Digital Twins and our automated industrial future
Gartner predicts that by 2022, over two-thirds of companies who have already implemented IoT will have deployed at least one Digital Twin.
Today, Digital Twin solutions are most often delivered in coordination or even by the manufacturers of physical equipment in which companies invest. But while this model makes sense today, companies will increasingly look to integrate Digital Twins with one another to accommodate each ‘thing’ in increasingly integrated manufacturing environments.
It’s through edge analytics solutions—specifically, IoT-edge computing frameworks—that industrial manufacturers will realize their ideal Digital Twin integrations.
Railway companies looking for new on-board electronic equipment or intelligent transportation systems should consider products that follow specific requirements in terms of operating temperature, shock and vibration resistance, EMC, and so on, in order to guarantee consistent and reliable performance in harsh and contaminated environments such as trains.
That is why on-board electronic devices like IoT gateways, edge computers and intelligent transportation systems should comply with the parameters defined by specific railway certifications. We will discuss three key standard requirements to meet the needs of today’s on-board railway and rolling stock applications..
Whether it’s venue, catering, speakers, delegates or topics, many factors have to come together in just the right way to create a truly successful conference or exhibition. Weeks, or even months, of planning go into ensuring every detail of even the smallest event is the best it can be. So, once we have everything in place and the conference is underway, how do we know that what we’re doing is working and how can we tell which areas of a show are the most engaging?
We can ask people for their feedback and send post-event surveys all we like but nothing beats hard data that tells us, in real time, what we need to know.
At Red Hat Summit 2015 in Boston, one of the biggest open source technology events in the world, we saw just how easily this issue of event analysis can be addressed.
Imagine how many times that expression is heard every day. It likely conjures up images of a Swish Viennese Cafè but the truth is vending machine technology has advanced significantly to include coffee and a myriad of other snack options. In the U.S. alone the vending machine business is a $7 billion industry with more than 5 million machines and forecasters suggest by the end of the year there will be more than 53 million machines globally.
The same machine that dispenses coffee can dispense soft drinks, water, candy bars, chips and other snacks. In the past the items vending machines actually did dispense was hit and miss based on what was actually available, if you had the right coins and if they were actually accepted by the tin box in front of you. In those distant days you probably thought – who on earth manages these vending machines, why don’t they ever work, why don’t they have what I want and when is the service technician coming?
is it not time that organisations with existing base of refrigeration assets turned to the Internet of Things to put in place retro fitted sensors to monitor the performance and key indicators on. Identifying potential problems early can help to reduce failure rates and save on energy, food waste and potentially damaging headlines.
The edge of the IoT is where solutions connect, communicate and interact using sensors, actuators, gateways, agents and controllers. As technology advances vendors are touting “advanced management capabilities” for these devices at the edge. These capabilities vary, ranging from the simple ability to turn a device on and off to more complex actions such as updating software, managing Wifi connections, configuring security policies or changing data parameters.
IoT projects present many challenges, even when the hardware is designed exactly to customer specifications. Building on proven architecture and software building blocks that would require many years to develop, the use of a Java-based IoT application framework will result in shorter, more deterministic device software development. Using an IT-centric approach to implement the device logic in smart edge devices improves both device management and embedded application management. Once this standard software platform is in place, connecting and getting business relevant data to the cloud is simpler than it ever has been before.
An advanced software framework that leverages OSGi and Java both isolates the developer from the complexity of the hardware and communications infrastructure and also complements the Multi-Service Gateway hardware for an integrated hardware and software solution.
The benefits of IT-centric application development to implement business logic in smart edge devices/service gateways are:
It’s easy to slip into the habit of thinking of the Internet of Things as a highly technical, industrial tool at home in factories, or fleets of high powered vehicles, but who’d have thought it can also help plants grow?
It can be near impossible to predict what any one growing season will bring. So much is at the mercy of the weather, availability or certification of crop protection products and numerous other factors which have to be given a ‘best guess’ in order to plan for them. The best way to predict the most likely outcome in any season is, of course, experience.