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Digital Twins

A digital representation of a product or system.
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Description

A digital twin is a virtual representation of a physical system that is used to answer questions that cannot be answered, or are difficult to answer, by a physical system. The model may be of hardware or software, electrical or mechanical system, or process, or all of the above. It is created for the purpose of testing, operating, or managing the system without touching the original. Digital twins mimic real systems through simulation. Digital twins may be necessary because the original is too big or expensive, the details of the implementation are restricted, or the amount of detail would be too slow for the operation which the twin is to applied to. Doing certain testing may also be too dangerous on the actual system.

They have separate uses during development, production and maintenance of a device and can exist over the complete system lifecycle. The theory is engineers can gain more confidence in making decisions if they have a digital twins on which they can test scenarios before changing the real system. Maintaining an exact copy of a real system means the digital twin has to be updated when the real system is updated.


Fig. 1: Blurring boundaries between design and manufacture. Source: Siemens

A digital thread, a closely related concept, is a digital record of all states of a manufactured product or system over time from conception to disposal. Digital twins, by contrast, represent the current state of a product or system at a given point.

Along with being a functionally correct, reproducible representation of a system, a digital twin integrates data from the actual operation of the system in the field. Depending on the digital twin’s objective, the level of abstraction can vary from high fidelity models to abstract models capable of being integrated into a larger system.