Everywhere you walked inside and outside the grounds of Hannover Messe 2018 last week in Hannover, Germany, you were greeted by digital twin messaging and technology. It's an exciting time in manufacturing today for many reasons, including the increasing usage of digital twins, or virtual copies of products and assets for innovation, collaboration, and operation.
Digital twins have become one of the hottest topics in manufacturing today because of their promise to improve innovation and design, visually enhance collaboration, and enable ongoing operation of connected products and assets — all in a fast-paced, digitally transforming, competitive environment for manufacturers.
Digital twins, or virtual representations, can be used to manage multiple aspects of a manufacturing business, including highly complex, customized products, and connected assets, such as manufacturing plants or facilities and the assets within them. Data and processes from multi-tier supply chains, service plans and execution, and the operating environment perpetually feed digital twins to ensure the most up-to-date view of the past, current, and future performance and condition of products, assets, facilities, and plants.
As innovation, manufacturing, supply chain, and service extends externally across a wide ecosystem of partners and customers, the questions naturally arise, how do we best communicate across this complex set of processes and resources? And as products and assets, powered by IoT, are connected and it becomes possible to track performance and usage, how do we best collect, collate, simulate, and analyze data to ensure quality and an exceptional customer experience?
The answer to these questions is to visually enhance the content and data created by this extended collaboration and connectivity through digital twins across your enterprise and value chain. What's key to note, however, is that there are different levels of digital twins that can be applied across a business, depending on need: from a lightweight model for early stage collaboration and visualization, up to a full, multi-tiered, systems model of products or assets for ongoing operation and performance optimization.
Digital Twins a Key Enabler of Digital Transformation
As manufacturers continue to digitally transform and move their business processes to an extended, open platform that functions inside and outside the company, between IT and OT processes, flexible, digital twins will become a critical tool for achieving consistent communication, collaboration, engagement, and operations across a digital thread that connects a varied, global team.
Ultimately, we think there are three big value propositions with digital twins for manufacturers:
- Learn about and predict asset and product performance, and operation within their environment
- Achieve positive business outcomes through IoT and the visualization of data and analytics
- Enable IT/OT Connection for a real-time, holistic view of products, assets, facilities, and plants
So, while "Digital twin mania" may have set in at Hannover Messe and elsewhere around the world, it's for good reason: because manufacturers realize the potential benefits this approach can provide including clarity of communication, rapid collaboration, holistic visibility, accurate, efficient response to demand, monetization of IoT data, predictive, proactive service, and closer collaboration with customers.
I just published an IDC PlanScape on this topic, that delves into further detail on the why, what, who, and how of digital twins: IDC PlanScape Helps Manufacturers Leverage Digital Twins of Products, Assets, Facilities, and Plants. I welcome your thoughts, as I continue to write about this topic throughout the coming year and beyond.