The term Digital Twin was coined in 2002 by the University of Michigan’s Dr. Michael Grieves.
According to NetworkWorld, the concept really gathered momentum when Gartner named Digital Twins as one of its top 10 strategic technology trends for 2017. “Gartner said that within three to five years, “billions of things will be represented by Digital Twins, a dynamic software model of a physical thing or system,” NetworkWorld reported.
Gartner has since estimated that 70% of companies implementing Internet of Things (IOT) projects will implement a Digital Twin before the end of 2021.
Here at RedEye, we typically see Digital Twin projects initiated by one of two areas in asset intensive organisations. Sometimes, the demand comes from asset managers striving to extract more value from their critical asset data. In other instances, a C-Suite executive will mandate a Digital Twin, as part of an organisation-wide digital transformation initiative.
Despite the appetite for Digital Twin technology, most organisations grapple with the practicalities of managing vast silos of data, documents and engineering drawings. Combined with managing geographically dispersed and aging assets, and workforces, the path to digital transformation is complex.
In this post we’ll cover:
- Key drivers for digital transformation
- The phases of digital transformation: digitisation, digitalisation and Digital Twin
- How organisations can harness this journey to make asset-related data more available, useable, and valuable
Key drivers for digital transformation
At RedEye, we view digital transformation as the transformation of a business to be able to use data effectively, to manage its risk and achieve its financial outcomes.
One of the fundamental changes we’re seeing with asset owners and operators is the adoption of technology, and changes in the way they operate with people.
In asset-intensive industries, outsourcing is commonplace. However, using contractors to work on performance contracts can mean that the internal processes and systems which were historically used to manage performance are falling by the wayside. While asset owners want to outsource the work, they're still responsible for the financial risk. In the old days, the work and risk was outsourced, but the rules have changed. Today’s siloed systems rarely provide a solid, unified view of operations that can inform decision making.
Another element of risk in asset intensive industries is managing the aging workforce. The challenge of how to transfer the knowledge of veteran workers to younger workers is widespread - and something which must be resolved in order to keep critical operations and assets running in the coming decades.
An executive could ask their procurement department to simply buy a Digital Twin, to fast-track a digital transformation initiative. But this does not address the underlying challenge of how to help 50 year olds and 21 year olds work together safely and effectively, while both changing the way they operate.
Looking after the workforce and managing risk is just one side of the equation. The other side is managing financial performance.
Financial performance comes from improving production, availability and uptime. If an organisation doubles its production, but in doing so, quadruples its risk, it’s likely something will blow up, production will fall, and the organisation will face very unwanted consequences.
These are the two big levers that digital transformation has to pull. If you improve performance but don't manage risk, something will fail. If you substantially reduce risk, but don't improve performance, digital transformation is hard to justify. We believe all digital transformation initiatives are trying to do both of these things at once - or at least improve one without hurting the other.
The phases of digital transformation
Whether the driver for digital transformation comes from asset managers or the executive team, we typically see three phases to digital transformation: Digitisation, Digitalisation
and Digital Twin.
These are illustrated below.
DigitisationTakes manual processes and converts them into digital format, via an online form. Using the example of a Take 5 risk assessment, an operator may currently use a paper-based form when they inspect something. Digitisation happens when the paper form is converted to a digital form, and the operator can input the same data on a device.
DigitalisationMakes formerly physical-only processes more effective and valuable, in a way that would have been impossible to achieve using paper forms. In our Take 5 risk assessment example, once the form is digitalised and sitting within a software platform, the system can use available intelligence to generate a warning on the operator’s device if they cross into a hazardous area, for example. A paper form could never have provided such actionable intelligence.
Brings together multiple digitalised processes to radically change the way we work. In our Take 5 risk assessment example, a Digital Twin could enable quick and automated escalations based on the operator’s findings in the field. It could also automatically generate work requests for asset repair. The possibilities are endless when an organisation's processes are completely and accurately digitally represented.
It’s worth noting that a Digital Twin is one of the tools that can facilitate digital transformation, but there's many facets to digital transformation.
Using Digital Twin technology to make asset data more valuable
One of the key ways Digital Twins can help organisations unlock the value in the vast amounts of disparate asset data they hold, is equalising the data across new and legacy assets.
In virtually all of the asset intensive companies we’ve worked with, we see assets that range from 10 to 60 (or more) years old. Managing legacy assets is critical. At the same time, every asset owner is creating new assets today. The assets that are created today are created in a different way, with different data formats, by different tools. The asset owner then has to operate an asset that was created yesterday, one that was created 10 years ago, and another that was created 60 years ago.
The Digital Twin is the platform that integrates these different “epochs” in how assets have been created. Rather than an asset owner mandating that all legacy assets need to be upgraded and changed to the way they operate today, or worse still, that everything their organisation created today has to be backwards compatible with everything they did in the past, the Digital Twin can be the tool and layer that allows them to create the new and stay up to date with technology, but not lose their connection with the past.
It should be okay to optimise an old asset in the way that it was designed, and optimise a new asset in the way it was designed - but, be able to measure both assets across the same set of performance criteria.
Adopting new technology shouldn't make old assets less valuable. But old assets should not stop an organisation from adopting. That's the Holy Grail for assets.
RedEye is continuously striving to solve the challenge of bringing together different asset data and engineering drawing formats. Whether organisations are initiating Digital Twin projects from the top down or bottom up, being able to collect and integrate key asset data is where it all begins.
Promising improved asset management, situational awareness, improved collaboration between teams and more, Digital Twin technology can be a powerful enabler of digital transformation.
Where is your organisation up to in your digital transformation journey?