Digital twins in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

SICK Pty Ltd

By Praveen Kannan*
Monday, 04 February, 2019

Digital twins in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Australia is set to embark on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, otherwise known as Industry 4.0; a journey to remain competitive and relevant in the global world of manufacturing.

Imagine a world where everyone can design their own product that can be produced in any modern factory around the world. All this is made possible by the concept of digital twins. Researchers Bolton, McColl-Kennedy, Cheung, Gallen, Orsingher, Witell and Zaki1 defined a digital twin as “a dynamic virtual representation of a physical object or system across its life-cycle, using real-time data to enable understanding, learning and reasoning”. Technology such as digital twins could offer the next frontier of productivity and economic uplift for Australia. Digitisation could contribute $140 billion to $250 billion to Australia’s GDP on an annual basis by 2025, according to a report published by McKinsey and Company.2 By 2025, almost 80% of the industrial production line in Australia will have digital twin running in the cloud.

The advent of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn has provided a sneak preview of digital identities in human life by new means of interaction, communication and collaboration. Extending the idea of digital identity to machines with sensors and automation leads into remote, self-configuring manufacturing lines based on machine learning algorithms. To understand the impact of digital twins, let’s consider an example where a smart three-dimensional vision sensor on a food packaging line is identifying a potential quality defect on the line. While the 3D sensor is detecting contamination of a product, its digital pair in the cloud is analysing all of the data from its physical partner, collaborating with other sensors and running predictive algorithms. The physical sensor is able to mitigate the real-time quality defects, while its digital partner is able to perform predictive analysis, and simultaneously informs its physical counterpart of possible failures in the future. The cooperation of physical and digital sensor twins makes the packaging line more robust and better suited to identify and mitigate quality issues in real time and in the future.

Digital twins will make manufacturing agile, dynamic and profitable, and the benefits of digital twins will be felt across the length and breadth of Australian manufacturing. Larger production houses will move towards ZERO: zero downtime, zero quality issues and zero safety incidents. The smaller manufacturing plants will become agile and able to make varieties of new product range driving towards ONE: one unique product designed and manufactured for one customer.

Smart sensors and cloud technology will play a key role in providing the digital identity for machines. Early adoption of digital twins will provide a significant first-mover advantage to Australian companies to compete globally, and should be on top of the agenda for Australian manufacturing CEOs.

In order to start the digital twin journey, it is best to start small by identifying the right technology partners, and look for business value beyond the standard financial calculations. The benefits of digital twins often come from outside the standard operating procedure, resulting in transformation capabilities, and will prepare Australian industry for the fourth industrial revolution.


  1. Bolton R et al. 2018, Customer experience challenges: bringing together digital, physical and social, Emerald Publishing.
  2. Blackburn S, Freeland M and Gärtner D 2017, Digital Australia: Seizing the opportunity from the fourth industrial revolution, McKinsey & Company.

Praveen Kannan is a senior product management professional at SICK Australia. Praveen has over 20 years’ experience in Industry 4.0 product and services, and has worked in three continents with customers spread across Australia, North America and Asia. He has a master’s degree in technology and a bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering. Praveen has written for many trade magazines and often speaks at conferences.

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