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The digital-era Alchemy

By creating precise digital counterparts, virtual replicas are bringing a new era of efficiency and innovation, transforming industries in unprecedented ways.

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VoicenData Bureau
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By creating precise digital counterparts, virtual replicas are bringing a new era of efficiency and innovation, transforming industries in unprecedented ways.

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It is a world where people do not think it stupid to mummify kings, where a child bawls with pain when someone kicks his pup, and where most people run first to save a seemingly silly object like a Teddy, a favourite book, a picture frame, or a pair of sneakers before picking up their wallet or property papers when a fire alarm goes off. It is also a world where the essence of machines and processes can be replicated in Digital Twins.

Not strictly for the same reason, but by the same logic, one’s life is hinged closely to the other.

Enter the world of digital clones.

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“Almost every manufacturing customer in the enterprise space is interested in adopting digital manufacturing, Industrial IoT, and digital twin use cases.”- P K GUPTA, Global CTO & APJ Presales Lead – Global Alliances Presales, Dell Technologies

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Not Witchcraft but Wizardry

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In an era where creating products or controlling processes is often laden with costs, complexity, and chaos, it is a much-needed marvel to have a virtual counterpart handy—one that works well. With this digital replica, a company can design, monitor, repair, correct, and improve the product or process without tweaking anything physically. That saves money and also spares everyone the irreversibility of mistakes.

What a doozy! Digital Twins provide that extraordinary comfort. They can simulate many characteristics of their physical counterparts. Since these models process and react to various stimuli (per the data representing the external environment), making any change is safe and timely. With the approximation of a real object that they bring in, they go way beyond erstwhile simulation techniques and whiteboards. Companies have a chance to improve productivity and time-to-market window, as well as the powerful button to augment operational processes and avoid losses.

Not surprisingly, product development is one big area for using Digital Twin. As McKinsey estimates, over the next five years, about USD 30 trillion in corporate revenues may depend upon products that have not yet reached the market. How do you make these products compelling? By staggering performance improvements and features that will make jaws drop and also make people very happy.

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But all that would require the integration of complex and novel technologies. Also, the growing spotlight on personalisation and sustainability completely changes how companies look at material and component selection, repairability, and end-of-life considerations. So, keeping R&D costs low while innovating with mind-blowing products would be a tough juggling act without the help of Digital Twin.

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“Digital Twin require in-depth process understanding and system design to translate real-world parameters into simulations.”- ASHWIN KUMAR, Partner – Growth & Solutioning, TheMathCompany

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Digital Twins would help nail this tough balancing dance, accelerate design and engineering cycles, and give more-than-ever design choices and more prototypes. This gets even more helpful when a company is creating products that are manufactured in small volumes, as big-ticket items, or as exclusive ones.

In fact, 75% of product development executives reported further digitisation as a key priority for them, according to a Research and Markets Forecast for 2027. This is especially true in advanced industries, where almost 75% of companies have already adopted Digital Twin technologies that have achieved at least medium levels of complexity. The use of Digital Twins is more advanced in verticals like automotive, aerospace, defence, logistics, infrastructure, and energy—for understandable reasons.

That explains the growth lined up ahead for this technology wonder.

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Not So Tiny an Ushabti

According to Global Market Insights, the Digital Twin market was at USD 9.9 billion in 2023 and can rise to about USD 125 billion by 2032. The Grand View Research pegs the global Digital Twin market size at USD 16 billion in 2023, with a growth projection of a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 35.7% from 2024 to 2030. According to Fortune Business Insights, this space was roughly USD 17 billion in 2024 and can surge to USD 259 billion by 2032.

PK Gupta, Global CTO and APJ Presales Lead – Global Alliances Presales, Dell Technologies, explains that Digital Twins are transforming industries by creating virtual replicas for optimisation. These digital shadows drive innovation and efficiency from factories to hospitals and cities. Almost every enterprise manufacturing customer is interested in adopting digital manufacturing, Industrial IoT (IIoT), and Digital Twin use cases.

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Ashwin Kumar, Partner – Growth and Solutioning, TheMathCompany, opines that the potential for Digital Twins in India is vast, driven by complex supply chains and deep technology entrenchment across the country.

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“Digital Twin has emerged as a lever enabling a real-time view of the supply chain and the business, empowering teams to make informed decisions.”- MANOJ KARANTH, Vice President & Global Head – Technology and Delivery, Connected Universe, LTIMindtree

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And what kind of enterprises are tapping these twins?

“Applications for Digital Twins span industries, but supply chain, last-mile delivery, manufacturing, and product design have significant opportunities for adoption. Industries like manufacturing, where precision and efficiency are paramount, embrace Digital Twins to optimise production processes and enhance product quality,” explains Kumar.

In healthcare, for instance, Digital Twins facilitate personalised treatment plans and predictive modelling for improved patient outcomes. Likewise, in retail and FMCG, it can help optimise inventory management, streamline logistics, and enhance customer experiences. “The versatility of Digital Twins ensures their relevance and applicability across India’s economic landscape,” adds Kumar.

Gupta also points out the areas heavily leaning towards adopting it: “The healthcare industry has shown significant interest in utilising Digital Twins for medical research purposes, particularly in areas like COVID-19 and cancer studies. Digital Twins are gaining traction in urban planning within digital cities, where they are applied for managing construction sites, optimising smart buildings, monitoring traffic, mitigating noise pollution, and simulating flood scenarios.”

Abracadabra At Work

Let us enter the premises of a giant energy company in the USA. When serving more than five million customers or over 10 million people across the state, operating 11 fossil fuel power generation plants, there is a need to take care of critical assets like gas and steam turbines and generators. Before adopting Digital Twins, each plant’s operations and maintenance process was being carried out locally. Then, it decided that there could be a strong way to increase power reliability and reduce operational costs by centralisation.

The idea was to redefine fleet monitoring and centralisation of operations and maintenance activities. As shared by Happiest Minds, the company made a shift to a better and more digital way of doing business with the P&ID Digital Twin. The initiative also entailed providing deep-dive details on the Fossil Centre of Work Excellence (FCWE) Daily and Outage processes. It also began using Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning models to optimise work orders and improve data quality for validation, prioritisation, and scheduling FCWE Daily and outage work.

Gupta also gives a peek into some work happening in this space. “We have successfully deployed several projects in the automotive and healthcare sectors. These projects aim to optimise production processes and solve factory issues virtually by offering extensive 3D simulations for design and process improvement.”

He shared an example from the automotive sector, where a significant reduction in car production time from 48 months to 12 months was recorded, along with a 50% reduction in costs. Besides, it significantly decreased the safety certification timelines.

Then there is the case of a retailer that adopted a digital process twin to tackle critical challenges after establishing a new e-commerce fulfilment wing at their primary US-based centre. The new facility provided additional capacity, but the increased volume exposed inefficiencies in the sequence of the products picked and grouped into respective orders. This led to decreased fulfilment SLAs in terms of orders serviced.

TheMathCompany built and implemented a Digital Twin to replicate the picking and grouping process, offering three distinct features: real-time scheduling, simulations, and optimisations. The process simulation allowed analysis of the critical SKUs and their demand, sizes, frequency, etc., to iterate over multiple sequences. Process changes in sequences were simulated to analyse the potential impact and reconcile it with historical performances, explains Kumar.

“With optimisation of the layer based on the constraints, SLAs were performed to recommend the best-fit sequence to maximise the number of orders fulfilled. The recommendations were tracked in real-time in terms of throughput, accuracy, and efficiency of pickings.”

As he shares further, the initial pilot phase was rolled out in four months, followed by a period of testing and fine-tuning over three months. Post enhancements, the system was completely rolled out in three months. This initiative enabled the centre to increase the number of orders fulfilled by 20% over the next six months, leading to increased customer satisfaction and brand value enhancement. The solution was modularised to scale it across multiple facilities, achieving 50% efficiencies in time and investment.

Homegrown Independent Software Vendors and innovative startups in India are fuelling advancements, driving the adoption of Digital Twin.

As further illustrated by Manoj Karanth, Vice President and Global Head – Technology and Delivery, Connected Universe, LTIMindtree, Industrial Digital Transformation has been a key theme across the industry. At the same time, there has been a lot of uncertainty across supply chains and variation in demand, to name a few. Getting a real-time view of the business and empowering teams to make decisions has emerged as a real need. Digital Twin has emerged as a lever to enable this visibility.

LTI Mindtree cites the example of a Mid-Stream Oil Major in the US. They have 6,000 miles of pipelines with 40-50 processing plants and are one of the largest producers of natural gas liquids. They source the gas from the producers, treat and clean it, and make it available to actual consumers. They needed a view of the business in real time so that people could make informed decisions to improve productivity and realise commercial value.

This required a complete process, Digital Twin, which gathered data in real time from multiple sources, including IIoT sensors, commercial contracts, market prices and KPIs, to comprise a single source of truth. Real-time value chain optimisation uses live process simulations to maximise productivity. The single Digital Twin hub allows operators, engineers and business analysts to coordinate decisions, operate plants remotely and receive performance alerts.

In its first year, this initiative realised USD 50M in net income and USD 13M margin improvement, with a 4% increase in commitment accuracy. It matched production to demand in real time, thus bolstering supply chain resiliency.

When the Poppet Pops

Digital Twins are not without their share of painful needles, though.

A lot of challenges exist before their true magic can be tapped. Especially if a company already has a monkey sitting on its shoulder in the form of heavy legacy systems.

Kumar outlines that the successful implementation of Digital Twins faces challenges in terms of Technology and Process Design. “Digital Twin require in-depth process understanding and system design to translate real-world parameters into simulations. They also necessitate a sophisticated IT infrastructure facilitating seamless connectivity and communication. Legacy systems, prevalent in many organisations, pose a hurdle to data collection and integration with modern Digital Twin technologies. Ensuring compatibility between existing infrastructure and Digital Twin solutions becomes imperative to unlock their full potential.”

Kumar also points out the torn parts of security here. “Additional cybersecurity oversight would be required to protect sensitive business process parameters and design. Overcoming these challenges requires concerted efforts and strategic investments in upgrading IT infrastructure and implementing robust cybersecurity protocols to enable the widespread adoption of Digital Twins in India.”

Get Your Bonsai

The future of Digital Twins is excellent, with more and more industries and governments adopting it by bringing Physical and Digital (Phygital) worlds together. “A thriving ecosystem of homegrown Indian Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) and innovative startups are fuelling advancements in this domain. The adoption of IIoT and Digital Twins in India is experiencing significant momentum,” Gupta reckons.

“This momentum is further supported by the recent establishment of an India branch by the ‘Digital Twin Consortium’, a global organisation promoting industry standards and education. The ‘Sangam initiative’ by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) fosters collaboration between public entities, infrastructure planners, tech giants, startups, and academia. This collaborative approach positions India as a major player in developing and deploying next-generation IIoT and Digital Twin solutions.”

Digital Twins are full of many good omens. However, they should be deployed and used with comprehension, clarity, caution, and care. Now is an excellent time to consider their advantages and pragmatic hurdles in the context of Indian conditions, limitations, and possibilities, as well as the vertical or industry in which one operates.

As John Naka advises: “The object is not to make the tree look like a Bonsai but to make the Bonsai look like a tree.”

Next time there is a fire alarm, you may want to save your Bonsai/Digital Twin and that machine in the glass house later. And not only because you can actually run with it. 

By Pratima Harigunani

pratimah@cybermedia.co.in

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