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What is a Digital Twin?

Digital twins – what are they? Although the concept has been around for some time, only now are they becoming a reality thanks to the rapid advancement of Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things.

In a nutshell, digital twins are exact replicas of a product, service or process used to understand and predict what its physical counterpart’s level of performance will be in different environments and scenarios. We use the term ‘exact’ loosely – while mimicking these products and services, they are of course digital with the purpose of acting as a bridge between the physical realm and digital world. The tricky thing to get your head around is that they are not a just a digital version of something tangible like a scanned document or photograph, but instead they are a digital replica of a real thing. Imagine a version of you within a computer – not a digital version of your face but instead a real version of you living inside the machine that thinks and responds to things just like you do. Sounds a bit creepy?

Digital Twin

What is the point of a digital twin?

Although it might sound like something out of a new sci-fi film, digital twins have evolved to serve a very useful purpose. They are allowing pioneers to create, test and build equipment within a virtual environment through the pairing of virtual and physical worlds. In other words, digital twins are allowing businesses and the like to test how their products and services will respond to change, when they will need maintenance, their optimal working condition and so on. They provide businesses with a virtual replica of a physical device that can be tested and developed before undertaking changes or creating the actual device in the first place.

How does a Digital Twin work?

Digital twins are born through a plethora of algorithms and fed by vast amounts of data. This data is collected through a series of sensors (think IoT) that are attached to a real-world counterpart. Predominantly used with the purpose of simulating and replacing physical prototypes of products or services, digital twins draw on machine learning capabilities along with advanced mathematics to develop a model that simulates the real world within a digital space. This model is constantly updated in real time through the data collected by its real world-counterpart, meaning developers can simulate how the device will perform over time, even predicting future performance and points of failure.

How will digital twins impact businesses?

Gartner has predicted that by 2020 there will be approximately 21 billion digital twins in the world (or digital world). But what does that mean for businesses?

Data-driven decision making

One of the greatest benefits of having a digital twin is their ability to take the risk out of decision making. Instead of relying on a series of prototypes and working conditions to get a product or solution to market, digital twins can provide businesses with real-time information, eliminating risks involved with decision making because of their data-driven nature.

Automate processes

On top of reducing risks associated with decision making, digital twins can also serve to improve the efficiency of business processes. Through combining the real-time data the twins receive along with historical data and machine learning capabilities, your digital twin could help to not only predict a problem in your businesses processes but also automatically resolve them. All you would need to do is transfer this knowledge from the twin into the real world.

Shorten time to market

This advantage is an amalgamation of the two benefits listed above – getting your product to market faster than your competitors is a problem faced by many businesses, but now with the rise of digital twins that could soon be a thing of the past.

Businesses can now use digital twins to identify how production processes will perform, saving not only a lot of time but also a lot of money in simulation and testing. Knowing how your product and processes will perform means faster decision making and fully optimised production.

Although still in their early stages, digital twins are certainly going to revolutionise the way many businesses develop their products and services. Being able to see how your processes will pan out in the future saves huge chunks of research and development budgets and will also serve to increase your customer experience, stemming from your ability to identify when problems might occur.

For SMBs we are most likely going to wait a little bit longer until we can access these tools which are currently positioned for the enterprise. In the meantime though we can all benefit from the machine learning elements in Microsoft’s Business 365 package.

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