Exploring the multidisciplinary nature of digital twins

It has been a privilege to not only receive an invitation to be a founding member of the techUK Digital Twin Working Group, but to also be nominated as Vice Chair!

My objective is to support Erwin Frank-Schultz from IBM as chair to make this group impactful. We want to focus on exploring and exploiting the multidisciplinary nature of the group and create an interdisciplinary vibe to our outputs.

The group is now formed, and we have created 4 delivery groups:

  1.    Reference Architecture
  2.    Characteristics and Categories
  3.    Cross-sector investigation
  4.    Horizon scanning & futures

These delivery groups contain the smartest minds in digital transformation, representing cutting edge organisations that are working in many areas, from quantum computing through to Formula 1 racing. This illustrates the benefit of our interdisciplinary group that consists of engineers, technologists, lawyers, economists, management consultants, construction managers, energy consultants and many more.  

I won’t go into detail here about the delivery groups as we will soon be explaining their plans and objectives. Please follow techUK, Erwin or me on social media to keep up with progress.

What I do want to share with you is something that started off as a Case Study framework for techUK members to structure their communication of Digital Twin initiatives.

We worked with our delivery groups to establish what are the key aspects of a Digital Twin initiative and how can we learn from them.

The key questions we developed are the following:

  1.    Why are you deploying the digital twin? (i.e. level of decision support)
  2.    What are the benefits you are expecting/have realised via the digital twin?
  3.    What is the focus of the digital twin? (i.e. organisation, product, service)
  4.    What is the lifespan of the digital twin? (i.e. from concept to decommissioning)
  5.    What is the time horizon for the intervention supported by the digital twin? (i.e. from real-time to long-term)
  6.    What technical components are required to deploy the digital twin? (including cyber and physical security)
  7.    Have you used any data standards for digital twin input/ output data, or documented and/ or shared the in/output metadata?
  8.    Has the digital twin been integrated with another digital twin?

Something interesting happened as we refined the framework, it became clear that this is not only a useful set of prompts for shaping a case study. It also emerged as a maturity framework, let me explain.

I will work through some examples.

What is the focus of the digital twin?

This question is about establishing the scope of the digital twin. A key aspect to consider with digital twins is how they impact on a business or any type of organisation.

Let’s take Rolls Royce as an example, the scope of their digital twin is far beyond the siloed digital representation of a jet engine (their product). The product is integrated by a service wrapper and forms an important aspect of their organisation.

The scope of the digital twin being connected from a product (or physical thing) through to its commercial purpose and ultimate organisational role represents a high level of maturity.

The lowest level would be a static digital representation of a product without any connection to the service or organisation it serves.

What technical components are required to deploy the digital twin?

This has a ready-made maturity spectrum published by the IET in 2019. The paper (digital twins of the built environment) does have a built environment focus, however the elemental model it presents does provide a framework to answer is particular question where the initial elements describe a static representation of an asset though technologies like photogrammetry and LiDAR scanning through to autonomous asset management through connected devices in real-time.

Has the digital twin been integrated with another digital twin?

Lastly, this is a key aspect of maturity of digital twins. There is the twin that can ask questions of its own assets, which is a lower level of maturity than a digital twin that can communicate with another set of twins.

An example is the possible digital twin interface between Highways England, High Speed 2 and the Environment Agency. These networks of critical national infrastructure interact with each other physically and as they develop their assets they require information from each other in order to test the impact of interventions on their respective assets. It’s not just the intra-twin maturity that is critical, it is the intertwin that opens up the broader value of the internet of twins.

What can you do?

This framework is a work in progress, and we hope you are able to provide feedback to us.

Please take these questions back to your organisations, projects, product development teams, client and schools to explore the real objectives and benefits of implementing a digital twin initiative.

We look forward to sharing the final product with you!

If you feel you have a great case to share, please get in touch as we want to promote and celebrate advancements in the implementation of digital twins.

In the meantime, please take these questions back to your organisations, projects, product development teams, client and schools to explore the real objectives and benefits of implementing a digital twin initiative.

To find out more about techUK's work on digital twins, get in touch with Tom Henderson (Tom.Henderson@techUK.org) today! You can also visit techUK's #DigitalTwinFuture campaign here!

  • Tom Henderson

    Tom Henderson

    Programme Manager | Smart Cities and IoT
    T 020 7331 2043

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