Creating virtual replicas of physical assets allows businesses to create an accurate, real-time representation of their operations. As the global economy becomes ever more digitised, hosting such projects on the blockchain could revolutionise industry.
Digital twins are virtual replicas of physical assets, processes, or systems. Typically, a digital twin is created by combining real-world data with advanced modelling and simulation tools, allowing businesses to create an accurate, real-time representation of their assets and operations. Traditional industries such as manufacturing, aerospace and automotive derive great benefits but with the rise of the Internet of Things and advances in AI, healthcare, real estate, finance and retail are also driving adoption.
According to a market report by Markets and Markets, the global digital twin market size was valued at USD3.1 billion in 2020. It is projected to reach USD48.2 billion by 2026; a CAGR of 58.0%.
Businesses who run digital twins are able to take vast quantities of information from arrays of sensors to simulate and analyse performance, improve production and reduce future costs.
The concept is not new. NASA has been using it as a guiding principal for monitoring space expeditions for the last 50 years but what has changed, in keeping with Moore’s Law, is the pace of technology innovation. With cloud computing and vast computing power, organisations can run the most complex digital twins with relative ease today. Ford, for example, develops seven digital twins for every vehicle it produces, while General Electric has effectively used them to increase the productivity of its wind farm by 20%.
Taking the definition one step further, a ‘blockchain-enabled’ digital twin is essentially a non-fungible token that corresponds to a real world object or process. Our Overledger Platform includes powerful tokenisation flows that provide a straightforward approach to any business owners who are thinking of creating a digital twin, and who wish to benefit from the myriad advantages of running such a project in a safe, secure environment.
Digital twins can be used in various industries, as highlighted above, to improve efficiency, reduce costs and enhance safety. For example, a digital twin of a manufacturing plant can be used to simulate and optimise the production process, while a digital twin of a patient can be used to monitor their health and predict potential health issues.
As Siemens explains in an industry white paper on the subject, digital twins bridge communication between product development, manufacturing and supply chains. Two years ago, the International Data Corporation predicted that by 2023, 25% of successful smart cities digital twin platforms would be used to automate processes.
The fundamental value of digital twins is that they can be the repositories of multiple data models related to the product or asset. While digital twin instances (DTIs) mirror a single physical entity and activity, digital twin aggregates (DTA) are a composite of individual DTIs. In a blockchain environment, each DTI would function as a distinct node or token. The more complex the project, the more nodes would be added.
For industrial and manufacturing firms, keeping track of every element of their supply chains, or every component of the production process, presents many challenges. By recreating it in the virtual realm, where the latest machine learning tools can be applied, can lead to meaningful operational improvements.
The goal of any digital twin is to generate unique insights that would otherwise be hard to uncover in the purely physical realm. These insights can then be applied when developing the next new product, or refining one’s supply chain. As IBM explains, the difference between a simulation and a digital twin is that the latter can run any number of simulations in order to study multiple processes.
Overledger ensures that no matter how complex the digital twin instance or aggregate may be, the underlying infrastructure can be readily used, allowing organisations to scale up their digital twin project(s) over time. This is made even easier by the fact that we’re able to create APIs that allow the whole system to be easily updated.
Take a global logistics company, for example, that wishes to monitor its shipping containers. During the running of such a system, new containers will be continually replacing older ones over time. Using the blockchain, new tokens (or DPIs) can easily be created and added, bringing clear automation benefits when updating the system.
This means that, in theory, there is no limit to how sophisticated a blockchain-enabled digital twin could be.
There are many ways in which organisations can benefit from using digital twins.
1. Test and optimise
The ability to test and optimise systems and processes in a virtual environment reduces the need for costly physical testing and prototyping. This can help businesses to identify potential problems or inefficiencies early on, and make changes to improve performance and reduce risk.
2. Improve maintenance
Digital twins can help businesses to improve maintenance and repair operations by providing real-time data on the health and performance of their assets. This can allow for more proactive maintenance and reduced downtime, leading to increased efficiency and productivity.
3. Personalise the experience
A third benefit of using digital twins is that it can help businesses to create more personalised experiences for the end customers. By creating virtual models of customer journeys, businesses can identify pain points and areas for improvement. These insights can then be shared with R&D teams and product design teams to better meet the needs and preferences of their customers.
Blockchain-enabled digital twins – a best-in-class approach?
With its various competencies and characteristics, there is a fair argument to be made that using the blockchain to host and operate a digital twin can be viewed as a best-in-class approach.
Safe and secure
Such are the cryptographic characteristics of blockchain that it ensures safe and secure data transfer. This becomes more important the larger and more complex a digital twin project becomes. Using a consensus mechanism incorporated in the blockchain technology, all of the stakeholders involved in running the digital twin effectively become digital sentinels. This helps to ensure transparency and accountability, meaning that confidential information pertaining to the digital twin can be shared in a safe and secure manner.
The immutable nature of distributed ledger technology means that organisations that develop a blockchain-enabled digital twin can demonstrate provenance and product authenticity in a way that is simply not irrefutable in the physical world. Everything can be seen on the blockchain, which goes far beyond mere product labeling (and potentially unsubstantiated claims) in the real world.
This encourages businesses to create more authentic and unique products when used in combination with the power of the digital twin. As a result, the immutable nature of blockchain enables integrity and reliability while collecting and analysing data.
The decentralised nature of blockchain enables data to be stored with no single, or centralised, point of control. Fresh transactions can be added, but the existing ones cannot be changed or corrupted. This in turn promotes transparency and data integrity within a secure, private network. Whereas a centralised system is incapable of managing various environments and requirements simultaneously, a decentralised network does not limit the number of tokens that an organisation may wish to add, as the scale and complexity of their digital twin project increases. Each new token is able to interconnect with all other tokens in the ecosystem.
A blockchain-enabled digital twin affords end-users the ability to gain an accurate, unobstructed view, where all of the data can be accessed using a real-time dashboard. Different teams located across different geographies within a parent organisation take confidence in knowing they all have the same view of a project’s simulation data and analytics. This removes redundant processes, avoids miscommunication, saves time, and enables insights and new ideas to be easily shared and implemented.
Supply chain processes can be unequivocally streamlined using the blockchain. Using logistics as an example, shipping containers embedded with IoT sensors can be connected to the blockchain platform to ensure complete transparency across the entire supply chain. Everything can be monitored in real time, with each DTI represented as an individual token.
The blockchain economy
Over the years ahead, the global economy will become increasingly digitised. As organisations explore the full potential of AI to improve the efficacy of digital twins, hosting such projects on the blockchain could soon become a de facto best practice. And in turn, revolutionise industry.
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