Digital twins are more than just visual reproductions of machines, buildings, or systems. They can become “workmates” with enormous potential and even support sustainable business. Bastian Herrlich, Tribe Lead Digital Twin Intelligence at T-Systems, explains why the economy needs them and why they are definitely a future trend.
In digital twins reality and virtuality merge. Who or what can have a digital twin in the first place?
It’s like X-ray images: some people find them spooky or can’t make anything of them. But in essence, they simply show us ourselves from a different perspective. As I see it, digital twins do more than that. They don’t just show reality – or planned reality – from different perspectives; they also enhance them with a variety of newly visible levels. And they can also supplement information from the past and present with a look toward the future. Nearly any objects, buildings, processes, and even people can be mapped as digital twins. I can understand why some people find this spooky, particularly when medical uses are involved. In nearly all other use cases, such as logistics or in the smart city context, I’d say “spooky” refers more to the potential of the digital twin concept.
What makes digital twins so interesting and why will they become even more relevant in future?
Well, to be technical, digital twins aren’t really an independent innovation. They are the result of driver technologies like IoT, 5G, AI, and VR. When they are used intelligently, large amounts of data from internal and external sources are correlated and made available to all players in an intuitive way. As the individual technologies mature, so do digital twin concepts. Realistic 3D models and visualizations help us better understand and control real-life workflows and processes – and ultimately optimize them – without having to interfere in regular operations. This innovation is becoming increasingly relevant in a number of industries. In a study recently published by Deutsche Bahn, the rail company’s board member for digitalization and technology, Professor Sabina Jeschke, is quoted with her vision of modeling the entire railroad universe in a kind of physically correct, realistic computer game. Back then, we initially broached this topic in the context of buildings. In this area, digital twins can help make planning, building and remodeling, operations, and ultimately even dismantling much more efficient, user-friendly, and sustainable. What’s more, at large corporations – especially in the automotive sector – training courses are starting to be held in virtual realities, where people can move through worlds made of digital twins, depicted as 3D models.
It’s exciting that logistics service providers and retailers are also exploring the potential of digital twins. How can digital twins help these industry sectors?
First of all, these two industries, or sectors, are not very closely intermeshed. In future, they can both gain lasting benefits through digital twins. Examples of simple use cases include keeping emergency exits clear or creating virtual copies of logistics centers and warehouses. Here, digital twins can help with advance planning, for example, to determine whether new conveyor belts or other equipment can be set up in an existing building. Logistics companies and retailers are increasingly taking advantage of the potential of digital twins. Along the entire value chain, digital twins are being used to manage container fleets, monitor shipments, and design logistics systems. There are many sensible applications. In the future, the center of an innovative logistics structure could be digital twins of stores and logistics hubs that all interact within the same ecosystem. The store’s twin could be used to digitally model the shelf infrastructure, for example, including individual article placement, all in the right locations. This makes the digital twin the foundation for intelligent picking, tailored to the specific shelf infrastructure and inventory of the store in question. Equipped with mobile devices, employees can optimize their routes to fill the shelves, in turn optimizing the supply of the bricks-and-mortar stores with merchandise with regard to availability and efficiency.
It sounds like these virtual “workmates” have a lot of potential. Does the future belong to digital twins?
This future has already begun! Its close ties to key technologies like IoT, AI, 5G, and VR make the digital twin concept one of the most important innovation drivers for the next five years. That means the answer to your question is a confident “yes”! A parallel digital world, characterized by digital twins that interact with other digital twins in an ecosystem, will be an important component for finding your way around. Using this world for your own business and achieving sustainable living will be another. When we present this topic to interested customers, we always start with this very question. The current times and “megatrends” like digitalization, demographic change, and sustainability, and even temporary pandemics like COVID-19 emphasize the importance of digital twins. After all, if our future collaboration becomes more virtual, we will also interact more with machines and artificial intelligence. And we’re looking for new solution approaches on our way to greater sustainability. Digital twins offer valuable support for designing new, sustainable processes.
If customers would like to get more information about digital twins, who can they ask?
They can ask me! Just email me at Bastian.firstname.lastname@example.org.