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Smart Simulation of Reality: Digital Twins

Does the future belong to digital twins?

November 17 2020Bastian Herrlich

Digital twins are more than visual replicas of machines, buildings, or facilities. The digital twin concept is already one of the most significant approaches to orchestrating digital information in real time without any breaks. Within large corporations, for example, training courses are being held in virtual realities. The logistics industry is just beginning to optimize picking via digital twin. Does this mean the future belongs to the digital twin?

How the twin works

Blue and pink neon tubes which converge towards each other in an arrow shape

Strictly speaking, digital twins are not an innovation in their own right, but rather the intelligent application of key driver technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT), 5G network technology, artificial intelligence (AI), and virtual reality (VR) to large amounts of information from internal and external data sources. With smart digital twin applications, real workflows and processes can be better understood and optimized visually without having to intervene in reality. As the cost of key technologies falls, digital twin technologies are becoming accessible to the broadest possible range of businesses. In addition to the range of technology, there are three more points that define the digital twin:

  1. A digital twin represents existing or planned objects, such as buildings or vehicles, 1:1 in a digital environment as a realistically visualized 3D model.
  2. The digital twin brings together all relevant real data for an object or process at every step and thus becomes the central data and collaboration interface for all participants.
  3. The digital twin maps a continuous flow of information over the entire life cycle of objects.

Digital twin – Application in logistics

Logistics service providers are currently tapping the potential of digital twin technology. They are using this concept along the entire value chain to manage their first container fleets, monitor their transports with sensors, and design their logistics systems. The potential applications of digital twins in logistics are manifold. When used in conjunction with IoT, the status of networked machines and the availability of goods and raw materials can be monitored and recorded. Logistics centers can be depicted in a 3D model both as data and visually, and can be linked with inventory and operational data from the real world. With the help of machine learning (ML), patterns can be recognized and predictions and autonomous decisions about stock levels and deliveries can be made. Examples from the retail sector show the potential these simulations have for ongoing operations. The number of retail goods delivered is constantly increasing and product ranges are becoming broader and deeper. This development can be countered with the construction of new logistics and distribution centers and/or with digital twins.

Great potential for further optimization 

However, the use of digital twins is not yet a matter of course. According to a recent DB study on digital twins, it can be assumed that less than 3% of companies worldwide have holistically taken on the opportunities offered by digital twins and implemented them to a certain degree of maturity. Those who are intensively involved in this topic today, especially in Germany, are among the “first movers” and have the opportunity to open up new business models.

Digital models of stores and logistics centers that interact within an ecosystem could form the centerpiece of an innovative logistics structure. For example, the branch twin could be given the task of digitally mapping the shelf infrastructure and individual article placement. The digital twin will in future become the basis for intelligent order picking that is tailored to the individual shelf infrastructure and the inventory of a store and thus of the real twin. Equipped with mobile devices, employees would be able to optimize routes for filling the shelves. In this way, the supply of goods to physical stores could be optimized in terms of availability and efficiency. This example shows the potential as well as the interaction of different technologies and information sources. 

T-Systems’ Digital Twin Tribe within the new “Digital Enabler” unit deals with the orchestration of these important driver technologies. Our experts offer their solution expertise to partners and customers alike.  

Virtual training: the digital twin as a foundation

A woman tests a virtual reality headset

The current situation regarding the coronavirus does not automatically signify greater relevance for virtual training or training simulations in virtual reality. However, the effectiveness of digital forms of learning and training has been demonstrated across various industries, business areas, and topics. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, distributed teams, working from home, and classic e-learning were part of the portfolio of modern organizations. Covid-19 has accelerated these developments. The technical gadgets of an adaptable target group with a lot of pioneering spirit are increasingly becoming important instruments for digital human-to-human interaction.

Virtual reality, in particular, is gaining importance in connection with virtual or online-based training. The advantages of the technology: optimal interactive design, presentation of the content is very realistic, VR training is easy to operate and impresses with its user-friendliness. The often playful character of a VR training application demonstrably promotes intrinsic motivation. Learners absorb content more quickly, retain it longer, and can better understand complicated relationships. The playful character cannot be attributed solely to the visuals or the use of game engines. These only provide the technical basis. Rather, the training mechanisms are based on sound research approaches that can be summarized under the term “serious games engineering.” Furthermore, VR technologies have an inherently immersive nature. Users interact with the virtual environment in real time, perceiving it as extremely real. The users are thus immersed in the illusory world.

When implementing virtual training, T-Systems relies on strong partners whose tools can be seamlessly integrated into its own development environment. In this way, virtual training can be created quickly and easily, adapted to the needs of the learners, and provided in a targeted manner.

Conclusion: the metaverse is coming!

In summary, productive combination with key technologies such as IoT, AI, 5G, and VR qualifies the digital twin as one of the most important innovation drivers for the next five years. The question of whether the future belongs to the digital twin can therefore be answered confidently: the metaverse is coming! This is because the digital parallel world created by the digital twin is becoming an important element in finding your way around this world. Digital twins are becoming crucial tools for us to develop our own business and promote sustainable living in the real world.

About the author
Portrait of Bastian Herrlich

Bastian Herrlich

PU Digital Solution / Digital Enabler / Emerging Technologies / Tribe Digital Twin, T-Systems

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