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Twins for transformation – TechInformed

If you were given a crystal ball reflecting the future of your work environment – be it a factory, office or hospital – wouldn’t it be great to see the consequences and impact of any changes you make?

Well, digital twins are here, and they are essentially already allowing for just that.

Digital twins can take habitats such as airplanes, factories, or entire cities and present them as a 3D virtual environment, similar to that found in a video game, often presenting the virtual reality in real-time.

Industries and governments worldwide are using the technology to help plan, train and innovate within their workforces. To find out more about where this 3D virtual-reality technology is headed, TechInformed spoke with Dan Isaacs, general manager and CTO of the Digital Twin Consortium.

The Digital Twin Consortium (DTC) was founded in May 2020 by four key firms: big tech giants Microsoft, Dell and ANSYS as well as real estate company Lendlease.

It currently consists of 200 members, and hopes to be a resource for all things digital twin, whether that be regulatory processes for the technology, to bring awareness to it, or to offer assistance in implementation.

“We are a member-driven organisation, and I work very hard to ensure that collaboration is there and that members are working together,” enthuses Isaacs, whose role is to essentially “facilitate the collaboration and the technical direction of the consortium”.

The organisation hopes to raise awareness of digital twins, how they can help transform a business and to also offer help to its members with issues like security.

Members of the consortium not only include providers of digital twin solutions, but also academia, and researchers, end users and the local government.

According to Isaacs, members have included Orange County Public Works, which is responsible for over 800 buildings and all the waterways in Southern California, as well as John Wayne International Airport.

Other airports to have joined DTC including Vancouver, Toronto and London’s Heathrow, with all having digital twins in place to help with customer experience and the workflow of the many businesses housed within their buildings.

Dan Isaacs, general manager and CTO of the Digital Twin Consortium

Within the healthcare space, the DTC is also working with digital twin platform AxoMem to create use cases around how digital twins might predict the spread of disease. “It’s called infectious disease management,” explains Isaacs, “and it shows the dispersal patterns and how to predict the spread within a hospital.”

Using sensor data alongside existing enterprise data, Isaacs adds that these twins can provide an up-to-date view of the state of disease spread across more than 1,700 inpatients in six blocks across a hospital campus.

The twin can allow epidemiologists to better predict when infections will spread throughout the year so that they can better prioritise how to handle it when it occurs.

In the manufacturing space, digital twins are not only providing a twinned virtual reality, but they can also be “stepped into” through virtual reality goggles, to make real time changes.

This use case proves how digital twins can be integrated with VR or AR devices to create an environment where employees can control a robot and make changes to a manufacturing line and its components.

As it stands, these robots are at various stages of deployment, some are in the very early stages, and others, according to Isaacs, are fully implemented.

“One is operating in an airport in Spain, and another one has been deployed on a military base,” Isaacs adds.

While digital twins are on the rise, Isaacs and DTC have realised that there is still a lot of confusion as to what digital twins are. One of his goals therefore is to “not only introduce and bring awareness”, to digital twins, “but also bring forward the value of accelerating the adoption”.

While many companies are undergoing digital transformation, fewer are using digital twins but these could easily be created from existing technologies and data that they are already collecting, Isaacs claims.

As well as work efficiency and planning, DTs can also help visualise a firm’s carbon footprint. “If you don’t have a digital twin, how do you know how much energy you’re using?” says Isaacs. “Do you understand where the opportunities to improve are?”

“Wastefulness can be leaving the lights on 24 hours a day, or the heating, which can be tracked in real-time through sensors and then easily visualised on a digital twin for all to understand.”