“The best material model of a cat is another, or preferably the same, cat”
- Norbert Wiener (1)
We use models to help us understand how things work. Also, to tell us a little about what should, or could, happen when things change. Used well, they can reduce uncertainty and remove some of the pain of decision-making. But models are only approximations. Used without care and attention, they can quietly lead us up the garden path.
A Digital Twin is a mathematical model of something else, such as a machine, a factory, a road network or a complete urban or rural community. The fidelity of the Digital Twin needs to reflect its purpose, which oftentimes is to reduce the risk of social, financial, economic and environmental harm or disruption in response to change. It can be used as a planning and forecasting tool, safely exploring the impact of interventions before they are implemented in real life. The Digital Twin can also be used to provide virtual sensing, exploring how parts of a system that are not readily observed or measured, change over time.
Formula One started using Digital Twins many years ago. Today, the teams routinely use high fidelity simulation of the race cars to assess how design changes and interventions might affect performance, reliability and safety. A race car is made up of around 25,000 components and is developed and deployed very rapidly and with many iterations over its short lifetime. Over 3,000 new components are made every week by the top teams. Digital Twins are used to manage the development and operation of the chassis, powertrain, tyres and control systems, balancing the cost and timing of implementation with the likely improvements in lap times. This approach has significantly reduced the time and materials spent on pursuing performance and reliability. It has been a great tool in the pursuit of sustainable sporting and economic success.
But it wasn’t built up overnight. The early simulations were a mixture of physical and empirical models, sometimes quite simple. These were validated and adapted with the help of detailed structural and computational fluid dynamics analysis, telemetry data from the cars on the track, and data and observations from wind tunnels, dynamometers and other test equipment. And, of course, financial data relating to the time and cost of developing and manufacturing new parts. The complexity of the models evolved over time to provide better and more reliable predictions that could be used to plan activities over a longer time frame.
A National Digital Twin would be a federation of different real and virtual data sources, built up over time to provide a means of assessing interventions and risk over the life of different infrastructures and other high value assets. A key to success will be orchestrating these federates effectively and ensuring that they are consistent where they touch. Some things change slowly, but others change very quickly, over time and space. For example, environmental and economic sustainability will be measured over decades, technical innovation over years, finances over quarters and major disruption over week, days, hours and minutes. Dealing with these different time frames, and with varying types, quality and completeness of data, will be another of the big challenges. Activity, capacity to deliver and ultimate disposal, in operating environments that change over time, are all things that a National Digital Twin will have to address.
Gall’s Law states that all complex systems that work evolved from simpler systems that worked. This will certainly be the case in connection with a National Digital Twin.
1. Wiener, Norbert, with A. Rosenblueth, Philosophy of Science Vol 12, 1945.
Frazer-Nash Consultancy Ltd
Frazer-Nash is a leading systems and engineering technology company.
Our work makes a difference to things that matter in the world.
With over 800 employees, Frazer-Nash works from a network of nine UK and three Australian locations. Our consultants apply their expertise to develop, enhance and protect our clients' critical assets, systems and processes.
In an uncertain world, we contribute to national security in a huge number of ways. We help make sure that power is generated and distributed to everyone who needs it. We support moving people and goods around and between the big cities of an increasingly urbanised society. We work to make the world a more sustainable place. We ensure governments save time and money when public spending globally is under huge pressure. And we help our clients wrestle with the challenges and opportunities of an ever-accelerating digital revolution.
Our people use their combined strengths to deliver technical solutions to some of the most challenging problems out there. Sometimes these challenges are difficult technical issues, and sometimes they are difficult because of the environment our clients operate in. Our great strength is our ability to rise to these challenges and deliver.
techUK invites you to attend our Brit-twin: Towards a national digital twin event on 22 January. You can see the agenda and register to attend here.
If you have any questions, please do get in touch with either Katherine or Jessica, whose details are below.