What is a Digital Twin?

May 3, 2021

Planning and analysis is the essential part of the development process in any industry. The question is, how to make testing and predictions more accurate, manageable, and cost-effective? How to choose the perfect direction when there are so many factors and data sources to account for? Digital Twin technology is the answer.


A Digital Twin is a virtual model of a physical object, area, or building that includes a visual 3D model which is continually updated in real-time using data from different sources. Depending on the type of project and its requirements, Digital Twins can gather information from management systems, third-party databases, sensors, cameras, IoT devices, and GIS data in terms of buildings or areas. The final data set may include information about the type of material, surface, diameters, energy usage, durability, and much more. 


The impact of DT technology on business processes has been groundbreaking across various industries such as construction, network operations, and product design. 


How are Digital Twins changing the development process?

The idea of Digital Twin is to create a precise virtual representation of a given physical asset for testing, analysis, design, and cost estimation. It could be a small, commercial product or an entire country-wide electric grid. Ideally, the Digital Twin of any physical object, network, or area should have all of the required properties for the task at hand, whether it’s predictive analysis for construction or creating immersive experiences for public consultations. 


Using different integration technologies, connected sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, the system collects data about the object and its physical environment to make a digital version of it to a degree of similarity that allows for making accurate predictions and estimations. What's also important is that, by using telemetry sensors and integrations with other systems, digital twin systems can be updated in real-time. 


A great example would be the Digital Twin we created for the Lux Turrim 5G R&D project. Its goal was to test and demonstrate an innovative technical ecosystem based on a 5G-standard network of smart lamp-poles and other types of interconnected sensors. We were responsible for creating a digital version of the test area and integrating all of the required data from different sources into it. The Digital Twin we created enabled monitoring of the area, performing advanced testing, and planning of IoT devices on the virtual model in order to better understand the technology and environment so that much better, data-based decisions could be made.


Whether the object is a simple product or a construction site, engineers, designers, and developers can use its Digital Twin to understand the technical and business impact of every decision before they make it. Informed, data-driven decision processes radically increase every project's safety and operational efficiency, as well as reduce development time. 

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Digital Twins in construction, network operations, and urban planning

The gravity and financial impact of decisions in construction, urban planning, and network operations leave engineers and designers very little or, more often, no room for error. Given that, it's much safer and cheaper to test different solutions virtually than to make ill-advised decisions based on limited data.


Using Digital Twin technology, you can create models of ports, infrastructure facilities, or even whole cities with every significant element like a tree or traffic sign placed with 10 cm precision. Analysis and testing based on such models significantly improve the planning and cost-estimation of development projects, but Digital Twins also provide many more benefits in the long run. 


Real-time updates of twin models are essential for enterprises, municipalities, and organisations for them to track and maintain a given area or network. Here are some common examples of how insights from digital twin software help businesses and local governments:


Cities:

  • Traffic analysis and management, increasing road safety, optimising city transport.
  • Projection of every future development, showing buildings in a virtual environment even before construction begins.
  • Detecting potential risks, such as floods or explosions and minimising their impact.
  • Tracking and analyzing air pollution.


In addition to that, our product offers ready-to-go solutions such as modules for green space and street light planning in urban areas, camera surveillance systems, and 5G networks.


Network operations, such as gas, water or electric grids:

  • Optimization and cost assessment for future expansions.
  • Designing and precisely locating wind farms
  • Reducing maintenance costs of operations on every level.
  • Reducing any unplanned downtime thanks to real-time alerts and system updates.


Construction:

  • Running complex scenarios in a digital environment, testing different directions for development.
  • More precise cost-estimations using data such as BIM (Building Information Modeling).
  • Visualizing every aspect of the project, making them understandable for investors and other non-technical participants to streamline the communication between all involved parties.
  • Analysis of the project on a daily basis dramatically reduces the development time.


What's also crucial is that Digital Twin systems are an accessible tool for everyone, not only designers and engineers. They allow for presentation of the current state of the project, it’s future phases, and all potential scenarios. 


The biggest challenge of creating Digital Twins for urban planning and construction

To create a functional Digital Twin, cities have to deal with an overwhelming amount of data scattered across many independent systems. For example, a city  might have different systems for electricity, street lighting, camera surveillance, traffic lights, and parking, all of which can be completely separate from each other with their own databases. This may not sound like a problem, but without having the big picture it’s very easy to overlook important correlations and miss opportunities. 


Of course, it is not an unsolvable issue. At Blare Tech, we provide a sandbox-style solution for cities that is designed to gather data from any number of systems in the Digital Twin to create a multifunctional, live-updated model. We take full responsibility for integrations and create complex Digital Twins that gather all required data from many different systems and devices. 

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Digital Twins in product design

Product development is one of the processes for which Digital Twins are most widely utilized. The complexity of data that the technology collects allows for predicting the entire product life cycle. Engineers use the system to test different usage scenarios in a digital environment in order to identify product defects. The testing capabilities that Digital Twins provide improve the overall quality of a product and allow manufacturers to understand it better.


Effectively, all participants in the development process, from engineers to marketers, can make smarter decisions and optimize costs all round. That includes all processes from manufacturing optimization to marketing strategy creation, which is why the manufacturing industry was one of the first to utilize Digital Twins. It applies to simple products as well as more complex devices and even next-generation vehicles. 


Digital Twins in infrastructure maintenance and development

For facilities like ports or electric plants, collecting and understanding data is necessary. The number of processes involved in modern infrastructure maintenance makes it almost impossible to work efficiently and make smart decisions without a Digital Twin system. 


A great example would be our Port of Oulu project, which is the biggest general port in the Bothnian Bay in Finland. Along with our partner, SITOWISE, we created a digital and interactive representation of the whole facility, which collects real-time data about ongoing processes and activities to improve safety, efficiency, and optimize costs.


Besides maintenance, our Digital Twin allows making precise simulations, cost-estimations, and analyzing the possible consequences of further expansions of the port possible. Make sure to read more about the project in our article about Digital Twin of Port of Oulu.


Digital Twin technology as an integral part of the development process and maintenance

A growing need for process automation goes hand-in-hand with DT technology. Digital Twin technology allows the seamless gathering of data from many different systems that are not compatible with one another. 


How do we create Digital Twins?


It all starts with data. Although technologies like artificial intelligence, VR, and machine learning facilitated the process in recent years, data is still the key. The development process of Digital Twins must always be based on the data requirements of each specific project. 


We have to know what type of information is necessary and how it will be obtained in order to build a functional digital representation of the area or an object. Once we establish a data set then we can proceed to the development process, which concludes with the creation of an accurate DT virtual model. 


The final product allows users to test different design options and scenarios, make precise estimations, exchange them between teams, and seamlessly create accessible marketing materials. You can read more about the benefits here.


We deliver our solutions in the Software as a Service (SaaS) model. The final product is a ready-to-go Digital Twin in a cloud-based system. If you are interested, feel free to schedule a call with our CEO, Grzegorz Hawrot.

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