What do you need to know about digital twins?
By Stephen Flannigan, Endress+Hauser Australia
Wednesday, 17 November, 2021
Digital twins are the talk of the town. But when a new term shows up on the market, we have to ask ourselves is this term just a buzzword or is it something of value?
The digital twin is quite simple to explain; the idea is to create a digital duplicate in the cloud of a real thing such as a product, process or service. Then, with an online connection between the digital version and the physical device, it’s possible to run analyses to predict health conditions and prevent potential problems.
Further, the digital twin allows the running of digital simulations, providing a chance to improve processes, prevent unscheduled downtime and much more. The digital twin is not a new concept, but it has become more popular with the new solutions that are appearing on the market using Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology.
There is a broad range of possibilities for using digital twins in industrial applications. At the same time there are different implementations of digital twin technology. For instance, the digital twin can be created automatically when you have a connection between the field and the cloud using an edge device. However, it’s also possible to create a digital twin of your device in a different way: for example, scanning the serial number, taking a picture or adding the information manually to the cloud using your smartphone.
The idea is to have a digital version of a physical device that automatically collects data from it during its operational lifetime. On top of that, it’s possible to implement algorithms that understand the device performance, check its behaviour or provide relevant data regarding the plant’s installed base.
For instrumentation on the plant floor it is possible to generate a digital twin for every asset. To do this, all devices are connected together (through a Profibus network, for example), and through an edge device make a connection to the digital twin cloud solution. When the connection is established between the IIoT cloud and the edge device, a digital duplicate is automatically made of each asset to the cloud. This ensures that all data is collected from field devices and a perfect copy is mirrored in the cloud.
Depending on the service implemented in your IIoT platform, the digital twin can be used in different ways, for example, to understand your installed base, to find obsolete devices or to make suggestions for improvements.
Smart instrumentation contains a wealth of information in addition to the measured value. It’s estimated that 97% of the available data isn’t utilised, but with digitalisation all the data in these devices can be easily accessed and analysed continuously. It’s impossible to understand and interpret all this data manually — there is simply too much — but not utilising this data means you could be missing an opportunity to identify issues before they become a problem.
More and more, we’re going to see services dedicated to solving daily problems that use cloud solutions. All the insights provided after the digital simulation are usually presented on dashboards making key data understandable and actionable. This further lessens costs often associated with hiring technical IT experts into existing teams and reduces workloads and complex training for existing personnel.
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