Covid Gives A Dramatic Boost To Digital Twins

February 4, 2021  |  Mark Hillary

I have written in the past about digital twins and the opportunities they offer for companies to create a virtual representation of a real engine, building, or another object. The digital version can be used for experiments or monitoring using sensors – like checking all the fire exits in a building and highlighting if any fire doors have been propped open.

Shell is a good example. The oil and gas giant uses digital twins to model facilities such as oil exploration platforms. The digital twin is used to manage assets and improve safety through actions such as predictive maintenance. Sensors on the platform feed information back to the digital twin and can report on wear and tear – so instead of laborious manual checks, the engineers know exactly where they need to focus attention.

The Covid-19 pandemic has created a strong incentive for companies to explore digital twins in more detail because they can help reduce the number of people needed to maintain facilities. The digital twin allows maintenance to be proactive, rather than reactive – just fixing problems or running periodic checks without any insight.

The industry analyst Gartner published a survey recently that suggested the use of digital twins is growing quickly. 31% of survey respondents said that they use digital twins to improve their employee or customer safety, such as the use of remote asset monitoring to reduce the frequency of in-person monitoring for hospital patients and mining operations, for example. The survey showed that 27% of companies plan to use digital twins as autonomous equipment, robots or vehicles.

The Gartner research suggests that by 2023, one-third of all mid to large-sized companies that have used the Internet of Things (IoT) will have implemented at least one digital twin project that was associated with Covid-19.

There are some interesting connections here. The IoT is being explored in more detail because it offers the opportunity to change how people work. Monitoring sensors can be used far more securely than physically having to go out testing assets. Because of the greater adoption of IoT, the use of a digital twin is increasingly attractive.

This is subsequently leading to wider adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as well. This is so the digital twin can learn about the surrounding area and begin to understand what the sensors are reporting – it is possible to ensure that alarms are only sounded when there is a genuine problem, rather than a temporary change in the data.

Last year Gartner found that only 13% of companies were actively using digital twins, but they observed that 62% were investigating the area and planned to be using a digital twin before the end of 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic has just accelerated this digital transformation. By next year I expect that we will see more than a third of all companies using digital twins for some applications, even if it is just monitoring how the office is being used to ensure employee safety.

I think it’s also important to emphasize that digital twins are not being used in isolation. A digital twin strategy requires a focus on how IoT can be used and how AI can generate insights into the data being reported by the sensors. There is a chance for companies to become much smarter – will your organization embrace this opportunity for an AI transformation with a digital twin?

Please click here for case studies and more information about the IBA Group experience with digital twins.

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