Digital Twin Consortium Moves into Second Phase

Two years ago, we wrote about the formation of the Digital Twin Consortium (DTC), with its ambitious agenda to bring standardization, interoperability, a common language and portability for digital twins. So it was great to catch up recently with executive director of the consortium, Ron Zahavi, for an update on its progress.

Since our first discussion, the digital twin market has moved a lot. The vision of where — and how — digital twins can be used has developed immensely, with planetary-scale digital twins being developed for geology and climate change. The number of sectors looking at digital twins has broadened to include retail, finance, insurance and police. And the range of uses has enveloped pre-sales simulations, training, acceptance testing, data aggregation, synthetic data generation and financial modelling.

As the market has developed, the DTC itself has scaled up in various ways. It’s added a further 100 members in the past two years and now has over 150 members, with a growing range of larger players joining such as Google. With members in 31 countries, the consortium has set up several regional organizers as well as a series of working groups proposed by its members. These focus mostly on sector-specific issues, but they also take on centre-of-excellence roles for big digital twin topics listed in its new Digital Twin Capabilities Periodic Table (see below).

Also, because digital twins intersect with so many other areas of industry tech, the DTC has fostered links with bodies spanning the open-source software community, smart cities, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, water networks, aeronautics, mining and manufacturing.

Early goals of the consortium were:

  • Define terminology and a taxonomy
  • Develop a library of uses
  • Develop an open-source software library
  • Identify different types of digital twin, such as those used in process industries and simulations
  • Identify the product life cycle
  • Find out which areas are common among industries or else specific to a market

Some of the first projects involved creating a clear definition of digital twins — although people still argue about this — and a glossary of terms, as well as open-source language parsers. A lot of effort is currently going into language modelling, helping different tech sectors achieve interoperability. The project also feeds back into standards bodies such as the World Wide Web Consortium. And the DTC has run a series of awareness-raising webinars, highlighting the use of digital twins throughout industry.

In addition, the consortium published a System Interoperability Framework in 2021 that aims to bring USB-style compatibility to machines and models in the digital twin world and cut down the need for systems integration. The framework sets out a modular view of how digital twins can be put together to form a “system of systems”, expanding the scope of a digital twin to encompass a whole factory, warehouse, supply chain, city and so on.

The DTC has also set up a GitHub repository to encourage collaboration on open-source software implementations, with examples for manufacturing and global data. There’s also a technology showcase to highlight case studies from areas including the building industry and manufacturing.

It’s relatively early days for these latter initiatives; however, they mark the start of the transition from a definitional phase of the consortium to an operational phase. Central aims include taking the case studies to a level where they can highlight returns on investment, helping buyers identify cost-saving projects in times of economic stress.

In our Insight Report on digital twins, published in January 2022, one issue we found emerging from the rapid pace of development was a widening gap between leaders and followers among customers (CCS Insight clients can access the report here; for more information, please get in touch). The vision and scope of digital twins is expanding rapidly, but there are still thousands of less technology-orientated buyers who don’t know what digital twins are, don’t understand what benefits they might bring and wouldn’t even know where to start with them.

To partially address this, one consortium project in current development is a digital marketplace for members; it will act as a public catalogue and showcase, either for products and services from individual consortium members or solutions involving several.

When the DTC launched in 2020, it touched something of a nerve as suppliers and customers in many sectors boosted their digitalization efforts to help cope with the Covid-19 pandemic. The need — and the market — has continued to grow as the technology stack for edge computing, the Internet of things, advanced connectivity and cloud have developed. The consortium’s also been boosted by customers’ increasing focus on how to effectively use the data they’re collecting, rather than on how to get the data in the first place.

The DTC has built on and enhanced that strong growth trajectory, and has especially embraced the complexity of the market, emphasizing that digital twins need a rich network of suppliers.

One negative aspect is that market conditions have now shifted because of the war in Ukraine, the global energy crisis and rising inflation. Many customers will see highly volatile economic conditions as their current investment environment, and they may become more tentative than they’ve been over the past two years.

This is true for many areas, not just digital twins. But Mr Zahavi is realistic about what this means for digital twins; he expects that there may be a slowdown in the pace of adoption. But he’s also clear that there are uses for digital twins that bring short- and long-term cost-saving benefits, and that the initiatives the DTC has put in place can usefully highlight these for suppliers and customers. He claims that because digital twins use real-time and historical data to represent the system’s current state, history and predicted behaviour, they help businesses make better optimization decisions.

In our view this shift in focus will be an essential one for all industrial suppliers in the coming months. Concepts like digital transformation are rather fluffy: they’re difficult to define, and it’s difficult to know when you’ve succeeded. It’ll generally be better to focus on saving money for the next 12 months — or until the world economy is more stable.