I have a twin! Well, I have a digital twin. You probably do too. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a digital twin, don’t fret—you’re not alone. In fact, this technology is relatively new and still developing.
The idea of creating virtual models to simulate real-life situations isn’t new. NASA uses digital twins to run simulations and test flights on airplanes before they’re actually flown by pilots in person or sent into space with astronauts aboard them (pretty cool right?). However, until now there hasn’t been much focus on how we could apply these same concepts outside the aerospace industry — until now that is…
The idea of a digital twin is simple to understand. A digital twin is a virtual model of a process, product, or service that can be used to:
- Improve performance: Understand how a process works, and improve it.
- Explore new ideas: Imagine what could happen in the future, and create it now.
- Make better decisions: See what’s happening on the ground in real time, so you can make confident decisions for your business.
- Reduce risk: Identify potential problems before they occur and fix them before they cause issues for customers or colleagues.
- Improve efficiency: Maximize resources to get more out of them than would be possible otherwise – whether that’s staff time, materials or energy consumption – by turning data into insights for everyone involved in a system (including those who aren’t currently involved).
Digital twins are used to run simulations using predictive analytics and data from sensors that are attached to airplanes and engines. These “test flights” for engines and airplanes allow for safe experimentation and troubleshooting without risking human life or harming the equipment. More recently however, the potential use cases for digital twins have expanded beyond industry.
NASA’s journey with the digital twin
NASA’s Advanced Turbine Systems Project (ATSP) has created a digital twin of their Pratt & Whitney PW1000G geared turbofan engine used in aviation systems like Boeing’s 737 MAX series aircrafts. This makes it possible for engineers at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio to monitor real world conditions on an airplane remotely via computer software without having any physical connection between themselves and the airplane itself – all from their office desktops!
Digital twins aren’t limited just to planes though – they can be applied anywhere where there is an application that would benefit from being able to predict future outcomes based off current data gathered through sensors placed around said device/application/process etc…
Today, digital twins are being used in healthcare to help monitor a patient’s health in real time. Augmented Reality (AR), simulated environments, and virtual reality (VR) can all be used with the data provided by digital twins to improve patient outcomes. For instance, AR could be used by surgeons during an operation or VR can be used by physicians to practice risky procedures in a simulated environment before they operate on an actual patient.
The list of potential uses for a digital twin is seemingly endless, but one thing they all have in common is their ability to collect data. For example, an AR system could be used by surgeons to visualize a patient’s anatomy in real time and allow for better planning of surgical procedures.
Virtual reality (VR) can be used by physicians to practice risky procedures in a simulated environment before they operate on an actual patient. The benefits of this approach include the reduction or elimination of unnecessary risks during surgery as well as the reduction or elimination of costs associated with conducting unnecessary surgeries that did not need to take place because the physicians were not sufficiently trained prior to operating on real patients (which can lead to malpractice lawsuits).
The idea behind digital twins goes beyond the practical uses of this technology—it is rooted in the desire to create a more connected world where people’s decisions can be made with better information than what has been available in the past. When we’re able to see how our choices impact different systems—for example, seeing how changing one variable will affect overall energy consumption—we gain better insight into how we can create a more sustainable future.
As you may have heard, a digital twin is an avatar that represents your physical system. It’s kind of like an actor who plays the role of “you” in the virtual world and learns how to be more efficient, safer, and easier to use over time. This concept can be applied across systems ranging from trains to buildings to entire cities. Since all systems are made up of parts that must work together in order for a system as a whole to function properly (think about how many things need to go right just so you can take a shower), it makes sense that we’d want an accurate representation of those parts—and their interactions—in order for us humans running them not to make mistakes or waste energy unnecessarily.
As we’ve seen in this post, digital twins can be used for many different purposes. The technology has already been applied to industrial processes, healthcare, and the energy sector. In the future, we’ll likely see more uses for digital twins in retail and other industries as well. What will your digital twin look like?
Repeatedly in life, you hear the phrase “practice what you preach.” A charge to show the world what you’re saying is true and viable. Well, that’s exactly what we did and continue to do here at EAC headquarters.
EAC’s popcorn machine recently had a broken part rendering it difficult to produce popcorn that wasn’t blackened to a crisp.
The Right Product Design Solution: Onshape
Our design engineers took one look at the problem and took action. Using PTC’s cloud-based Onshape, one engineer began the initial CAD design of the part off-site simultaneously as another designer was able to edit the part geometry on-site. This increased collaboration and excelled design iteration with updates in real-time.
With the initial design completed in Onshape, minor tweaks were made and work through versions 2 and 3 were finished in just a matter of days. The CAD file alone, however, was not going to fix the burnt popcorn issue – it was time for prototyping.
The Right Prototype Solution: Formlabs
Unfortunately, the original part had deteriorated over time which made it difficult to capture accurate measurements. Adjustments to the prototype would have to be made along the way to make sure that it fit just right.
Using our Formlabs 3D printers, the designers printed V1 and V2 on the Form 3+ printer due to the accuracy and speed in which they could turn around a prototype. Since our team wanted to test out their iterations quickly, they took advantage of the new and improved software and hardware offerings on this printer. The off-site designer was able to print the prototype after the on-site designer prepped the printer before leaving the office that same day. As a result they produced functional, high-quality prototypes and end-use parts in record time.
The prototype material used accelerated necessary edits, but was not used for the final product due to the level of heat it would take on sitting above the popcorn kettle. The final piece was printed with Nylon resin on the Fuse 1 printer. This new SLS printer not only sped up the production process, but allowed for long-lasting results using an incredibly durable material. It was time to install the ready-made part – our popcorn machine was going to pop again.
THE FINAL PRODUCT
By using modern collaborative design tools in Onshape, our team was able to seamlessly work together remotely and also quickly iterate a quality design ready for prototyping. Formlabs’ connected printers with remote access, printing, and monitoring created an accurate and durable part that was ready to be put to use.
Together, the two solutions streamlined design, prototyping, and part production processes. Our design engineers saw a problem and practiced what they preach – filling the halls of EAC with the smell of fresh popcorn once again!