Digital twins – doubling the potential for innovation

A digital twin enables you to depict existing and planned equipment and systems virtually. This allows you to significantly reduce development times.

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Minimising failure rates, shortening development cycles and ensuring your products can be built – the technology behind digital twins can do it all for your business.

Many businesses are already well accustomed to using digital models for example in manufacturing. CAD (computer-aided design) helps in the development of products, while design reviews allow you to comprehensively and systematically examine designs to ensure they meet all your requirements.

Both applications allow you to test systems, equipment and products long before manufacturing begins. But digital twins come into play when products are being used. They are virtual representations of products or systems and they enable you to run through steps in production and the associated supply chains in digital processes.

Through the IoT we know that the benefit of linking the real to the digital world like this is obvious: customised investigations and tests can be done without too much financial input, resources or manpower. Prototypes don’t need to be made and you no longer need to spend lots of time identifying faults after commissioning. The software solutions you need can simply be purchased from the Cloud and professional service providers can implement them.

Four different digital twins that enterprises can use

When digital twins replicate reality in the virtual space, they depict vast quantities of data and information at an appropriate granularity, so it makes sense to subdivide them. There are different types:

  1. The digital product twin is used in product development. It allows you to commission a product virtually before manufacturing begins. The data collected during this simulated operation helps improve every aspect of the product. This involves 3D / CAD models, testing properties and the simulations required during product development.
  2. The digital factory twin is used when planning factories, machines, systems, tools and testing programs. This kind of digital twin supports, monitors and optimises production processes.
  3. The digital service twin is a product’s digitalised memory. It involves production figures and information about processing times, adherence to stipulated delivery times and product quality.
  4. The digital twin of organisation facilitates optimised, comprehensive planning of all of the processes in a business, and increases data security and data protection.

The potential areas in which the multiple capabilities of a digital twin can be used depend on the stage of the product life cycle which it represents. The simplest and most widespread type is the digital product twin. It is deployed at the very beginning of data acquisition and supplies results that form the basis for subsequent applications.

According to a Gartner Survey, around 13 percent of 600 businesses that were polled in six countries (including Germany) currently use digital twins. The vast majority of these enterprises (88 percent) use digital twins for simulation purposes.


Which businesses use this technology?

  • Italian sports car manufacturer Maserati uses digital twins to almost halve the time it takes to develop its vehicles.
  • Aircraft manufacturer Airbus uses digital twins to coordinate the 12,000 partners who supply the three million individual components of the A319.
  • The Siemens factory in Amberg, which is known as a smart factory, has also set high standards in this technology. The positive experience it collected using its own applications led the company to set up a new operating company which now offers industrial businesses the same technology.
  • Developers at Daimler use a virtual engine block to simulate the way different parts of the engine behave at different speeds.
  • Ports like Rotterdam and Hamburg already have digital twins, although they only replicate the aspects relevant to operations, and not the entirety of port facilities.
  • The United Kingdom is set to have a digital twin. In a mammoth project, the UK intends to construct a digital twin of the country’s entire infrastructure. The aim is to improve and simplify planning and maintenance, and enable the use of artificial intelligence.

A digital twin needs a digital thread

Digital twins need data, algorithms and sensors, but even more than that they require a framework that regulates access to that data. They need a digital thread. A digital thread runs through the labyrinth of data, establishing links and correlations.

The digital thread ensures that everyone involved in the process can access the latest data raised by sensors. But staff need to spend a considerable proportion of their time tracking down that data, because integrating information systems that have grown differently takes time and money.

Digital threads exist for different products. A digital thread can follow a product’s entire life cycle. It can connect the requirements for the design, to its implementation, to manufacturing instructions, supplier management and things that happen at the customer’s.

This is the only way to ensure that a manufacturer receives a complete overview of the properties and behaviour of its product. A digital thread is also essential to analysis and improvement, because the system ensures that all of the various functions and departments in the business are always working with the latest information.

Infographic about the workflow with a digital twin

Improvements come about through a perpetual cycle

What areas should digital twins be used in?

Look briefly at the benefits of digital twins and the answer is obvious: every area.

  • Digital twins reduce lead times by up to 30 percent. By sensors providing real time data analysis, they can improve the efficiency of machine usage in manufacturing by around 20 percent.
  • They improve our understanding and prediction of the actual capability, performance, and operation of equipment and products.
  • Business results can be demonstrably improved by the Internet of Things (IoT) and by visualising data and analysis.
  • IT integration enables a complete overview of products and systems in real time.
  • Every area of a business can benefit from digital service twins. They reflect the entire structural organisation of a business, its systems, processes and workflows.

What do I need to get going?

SMEs should not overdo things when setting up a digital thread and digital twin. It’s better to start small. We recommend adopting a procedure used in agile software development which has become widespread in Industry 4.0: the ‘minimum viable product’. This is a technology that helps minimising risks when developing products, services and business models.

The minimum viable product can be a version of a new product, service or business idea that can be set up with little effort.

Ideally, things start out with a physical object or a product group with which to create a digital twin which stores all the data raised by sensors, machinery and partners. This ranges from development, to distribution, to use. Proceeding this way as part of digital transformation also sets up the ideal starting point from which to extend a digital thread.

Enterprises need the right personnel for this – people, in other words, who can interpret the data. Teams who take on this task are ideally made up of data scientists who can extract actionable findings from the use of digital twins.

You also need the right software. Design, simulation and analysis software can meet management’s minimum requirements. The cost of creating and running a virtual likeness of a real object depends on the requirements which the likeness has to fulfil.

Recent technological developments have dramatically reduced the cost of processing power, storage and bandwidth, and as a result, the use of digital twins is now economically viable in many areas – especially if they reflect the entire life cycle of a product

How does a digital twin work in a business?


  • Performing risk analysis
  • Performing tests, simulations and evaluations in product development
  • Trying out new business models
  • Enriching duplicated processes using artificial processes and the IoT so as to continually improve them on the basis of real time interactions and learning effects

What can a digital twin prevent?

  • Incidents like the combustion of the notorious Samsung Galaxy 7 series, which burst into flames during flights because of changes in air pressure.
  • Unsolved logistical puzzles. A television passed every quality check, yet it didn’t work when the customer received it. What happened? Analysing the logistical data stored in a twin revealed that the appliance had been carried on a cargo vessel which had been caught up in a storm and the container had been shaken.
  • Noise pollution caused by a high-speed road in residential areas of Singapore. Background: Dassault Systèmes set up a digital twin of the entire city state. It helps urban planners predict the effects of building activities before they happen.

How securely will a digital twin handle my business data?

The most secure way of progressing with digital twin technology is probably the Cloud model. In recent years, Cloud providers have employed certified infrastructure and computer centres to become data custodians who can fulfil all of the IT security requirements of Industry 4.0.

But it isn’t just IT which has to meet these requirements. More and more digital twins are being used in manufacturing. Their use in the management of production facilities does not always coincide with other aspects and requirements. For instance, the health and safety of workers may be diametrically opposed to a desire for less downtime.

In this real instance, systems must operate in a stable fashion that allows an emergency stop to be integrated. This requirement also has to be met by the digital replica of the production unit.

The capabilities of a digital twin of innovation allow protecting sensitive financial and innovation areas. Moreover the twin allows you to digitally replicate an entire corporate structure. Larger areas can be subdivided into separately protected zones. This prevents the attenuation of data flows that pass through the entire business.

Does a tin of face cream need a digital twin?

Spoiler alert: yes, it does. Every physical product can have a digital twin. And digital twins can even be essential for the packaging of FMCG (fast moving consumer goods). That’s because countries in which things like cosmetic products are distributed require a lot of adjustments when it comes to marketing.

If important components like language, fonts, photos and colours are all stored for the design of the packaging, manual work is reduced. This process can be accelerated using digital twins, and costs sink.

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