The Rise of IoT Propels Digital Twin Technology Growth

The pervasiveness of IoT sensors allows forward-thinking companies to create a digital twin of a project and benefit from real-time access to project data, design flexibility with minimal risk, and efficiencies in time and cost.


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Image credit: National Research Foundation, Singapore Government

If you’ve ever undertaken a remodeling project, you know how helpful it is to see the architect’s rendering of the updated structure. Now imagine that you can sit next to the architect and make changes in real time, tweaking the design until you create the perfect configuration within your budget. Now you can do that and much more, thanks to IoT and the development of digital twins.

A digital twin is an exact digital replica of a physical object; it could be a building, a car, even a person. Each discrete system within that object is reconstructed using IoT sensors, which gather and send real-time data from the physical world to an application that creates the digital twin. 

The data housed in the digital twin can be accessed by each entity that needs information about that project. Because all data is stored and updated on the digital twin, each group is working with the same real-time information.

Asset Knowledge

For example, a construction site has to purchase materials from suppliers, who source them from manufacturers. Onsite facilities managers need to know when the materials will arrive and where they are located at the worksite. If each of those shipments has an IoT sensor, the information will be sent to the digital twin, and the managers, investors, suppliers, and builders all can see how the project is progressing, if there are any delays, and where those items are located on site. 

Armed with that data, the digital twin provides real-time information about how to improve efficiency, enhance operations, and identify potential problems without disrupting an existing project—or even prior to project commencement. That reduces the risks and saves valuable time and money. 

In our construction site example, a facilities manager can monitor the digital twin and see in advance that materials will be delayed, rather than finding out the day of expected delivery and scrambling to find other work or halting work altogether. 

Change by Proxy

Because the digital twin is basically a proxy, any application that needs data requests it from the proxy. It can encapsulate data so users can make changes to the twin without impacting any connected applications, and applications can be changed or updated without affecting the digital twin. That simplifies application maintenance and reduces the risk of inadvertently affecting other areas of the project. 

You want to move a wall over a few feet? Try it on the digital twin and review the results. Coupled with algorithms, business rules, or other analytics, digital twins can support human decisions and even automate decision making.

Digital twins are making inroads in an array of vertical industries. Healthcare professionals are using digital twins of patients to simulate procedures rather than performing them on a real patient. Small sensors can monitor patients and produce digital models that can be used by artificial intelligence to improve care.

 IoT Ubiquity

Chevron is deploying digital twin technology on its oil fields and refineries. By 2024, the company expects to save millions of dollars in maintenance costs due to its digital twin usage, according to Chevron Chief Information Officer Bill Braun. 

Other areas using digital twins include Formula 1 racing and metropolitan cities, including Singapore, which has a digital twin city. Virtual Singapore integrates data sources from government agencies, 3D models, the Internet, and real-time dynamic data from IoT devices, according to the Singapore government. 

The digital twin platform allows different agencies to share and review plans of various projects in the same vicinity, such as comparing existing landscape against ongoing/future upgrades or renovation projects. The technology enables municipal agencies to collaborate their respective projects and optimize the overall design and implementation. 

Singapore's virtual city supports agency collaboration.











Image credit: National Research Foundation, Singapore Government

The rise in digital twin use directly correlates to IoT solutions. According to research from Gartner, 24 percent of organizations that have IoT solutions or projects in progress already use digital twins, and another 42 percent plan to use digital twins within the next three years. By the end of 2020, Gartner predicts there will be 21 billion connected sensors, which will further propel the use of digital twins and open a world of opportunity for companies that decide to use them. The possibilities are nearly endless. 

  • Watch the videos from the National Research Foundation in the Singapore Government to learn how Virtual Singapore is used as a dynamic 3D city model and collaborative data platform for public, private, and research sectors.
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