Time to Double Down on Digital Twins


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As the U.S. space program reaches farther into the solar system and beyond, spacecraft must become lighter and withstand more extreme conditions over longer periods of time. To meet this challenge, NASA has embraced the digital twin: a software model that exactly mirrors its physical counterpart. The digital twin simulates a physical spacecraft at launch time and uses sensor data for continuous updates. It’s the closest thing to being on board, allowing engineers to better monitor operations and take proactive steps to reduce risks for these complex and expensive missions.

Now digital doppelgängers are coming to a location near you. According to Gartner, “within three to five years, hundreds of millions of things will be represented by digital twins.”[1] They’ll be hard at work helping organizations operate factories, plan equipment service regimens, and improve product quality. We may even have personal digital twins to assist doctors with diagnoses and treatment planning. (Sadly, you’ll still have to go to the dentist yourself.)

Digital twins differ from engineering simulations in that they deliver benefits over the lifetime of the asset, from lower prototyping costs to more accurate failure predictions and reduced downtime. By unifying once-siloed disciplines such as design engineering, quality assurance, performance monitoring, and diagnostics, digital twins increase productivity, enhance product quality, and create competitive advantage.

CIOs and chief data officers would do well to begin laying the groundwork now. Develop a holistic approach to store, manage, and manipulate the massive amount of data required to sustain a digital twin. Institute a robust engineering change management process to help ensure digital twins accurately reflect their corresponding physical assets. While precise use cases for most industries are yet to be defined, digital twins promise to be a disruptive force in the enterprise on a scale not unlike that of a parallel trend, the rise of digital labor.


1. Gartner press release. “Gartner Identifies the Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2017.” October 18, 2016. http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3482617


Photo credit: iStock.com/FatCamera


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