The past few years have seen the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) evolve from a theoretical way for operations and plants to become more efficient to a digital reality in the way utilities operate on a day-to-day basis. From equipment monitoring to smart meter applications – and everything in between – sensors, the data they produce, and the smart applications these connected systems enable, have brought numerous benefits to utilities.
These organizations are now looking at how to achieve additional advantages from their sensor-driven operations through digital twins. A virtual copy of a physical building, combining a 3-D model of a facility with the dynamic data needed to show visualizations and analysis, a digital twin provides a decision support tool that leverages real-world data to produce predictions or simulations that enable improved decision making.
A digital twin is far more than just a buzzword. For years, digital twins have been ranked among the top technology trends, and many companies – including FuseForward – are actively involved in pilot projects across a number of use cases.
A bridge between the physical and digital world
A digital twin uses the data generated by all the smart components that use sensors to analyze different scenarios to provide business and other contextual data. The ultimate evolution of the digital twin will be to create, test and build an entire operation in a virtual environment, and only when it performs optimally will the physical operation be built.
Today’s digital twins provide a vital link between the physical and virtual worlds, using existing systems and processes as well as behavioral models to simulate how people will interact with the systems they touch.
It wasn’t that long ago that smart meters were the biggest digital change in utilities, but the IIoT now encompasses everything from continuous monitoring of networks to asset visualization and analytics. Digital twins can offer predictive capabilities, using real-time IoT data (and more) to issue predictions of events long before they occur.
For example, digital twins can foresee power grid failure in utility environments by predicting specific factors like the likelihood of fires starting, or gas leaking from individual asset components, or pipes bursting. Digital twins allow utility workers to visualize an asset in the context of the system and the surrounding environment, check its status, and perform analyses and simulations. This enables utilities to better understand the past and current performance of their systems while helping them predict future performance.
Digital twins give utilities actionable insights that help them predict performance and identify failures before they happen, as well as optimizing asset performance and risk-based planning. Enabled by intelligent and connected digital infrastructure, digital twins support planning, design, construction, and operations for smart utilities.
Covid-19 and safer operations
Recently, a new, more urgent use case has emerged for digital twins—mitigating the impact of COVID-19. Digital twins provide the ideal way to ensure a smooth transition to a more remote and distributed workforce, as well as providing for safe re-entry for workers.
Visibility of a building’s inner workings has never been more important, particularly when it comes to HVAC systems. Agile, scalable, and dynamic workplaces are needed now more than ever. Digital twins support these requirements by providing the data and visualizations needed to make more rapid and flexible decisions.
One of the most pronounced impacts digital twins have had is in supporting social distancing. Virtual employee and occupant traffic pattern analyses help evaluate workflow patterns and adjust workplace designs and protocol to better manage social distancing, while also being used to support the improvement of indoor air quality in facilities by operating HVAC systems with an eye to occupancy pattern. The pandemic truly has highlighted the importance of digital twins to go beyond reliability, productivity and human experience — to create an interrelated, enhanced, resilient operation.
Digital twins are decision support tools. You don’t need to go all the way to the creation of a comprehensive digital twin – by focusing on using data to make better decision making you will be on the way there.
There are a few easy ways to get started. First, identify a burning area that you can use to make a decision. Is there an aspect of your operation that would benefit from improved decision making? Start small. Start structuring data, and incorporate the systems and processes required for a digital twin in the future. Once you have done this, you will be ready to launch a pilot project to validate that you are getting a return on your investment.