The growing digitalisation of production technologies, together with the increasing sophistication of digital technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, XR (Extended Reality) environments, and ML/AI (Machine Learning/Artificial Intelligence) tools, have ushered us into the Industry 4.0 age.
What is the digital twin?
A revolution that is still ongoing, and still steering many companies towards digital twins, i.e. virtual representations that will transform production systems and introduce new ways to lower costs, monitor resources, optimise maintenance, reduce inactivity time, and integrate connected products.
For example, digital twins of buildings can combine the latter’s information model (BIM – Building Information Model) with (real time) data streaming received through sensors placed on the buildings themselves, in order to simplify the execution of control procedures.
What are the benefits of digital twin technology in the infrastructure sector?
Microsoft, in collaboration with Bentley Systems and Schneider Electric, has implemented a digital twin of its new regional headquarters at Frasers Tower in Singapore, thus providing a prototype for future smart buildings. The data collected (through a combination of 179 hardware points and 900 sensors tracking lighting, air quality and temperature systems) allow to monitor the usage of facilities, energy and services, thereby creating a comfortable and productive space for employees while increasing overall energy efficiency.
Another example is provided by Bosch: the multinational has built a system to monitor the “status” of digital twins. After investing in AI and Machine Learning, the company has developed an IoT platform called “Bosch IoT Suite”, as well as its own cloud data centre, so as to contribute to the establishment of next-generation digital twins suitable for smart thermostats.
A 3D designer shows an example of digital twin
Great Energy Transition Goal
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, the Paris Agreement’s objectives can be met only if the so-called Great Energy Transition is achieved by 2040-2050 – that is, when the rate of renewable energies in the overall energy balance will reach at least 40%. To attain this goal, three key trends need to shape the energy landscape, known as the 3Ds: decarbonization, decentralisation, and digitalisation.
We are already moving in this direction. According to Siemens, technological partner of the 4 MADE Industry Competence Centre, oil and gas companies, as well as the automotive industry, have already began engaging with the 3D challenge, with a view to conquer it, through mergers and acquisitions. The same is with large technological multinationals such as Google, Amazon and Apple. Google’s company blog reads: “Google paves the way for a future without emissions. The first steps date back to 2007, when CO₂ neutrality was achieved. Ten years later, thanks to the new tools available to us, we have taken another leap forward and become the first large company whose annual electricity consumption is fully met by renewable sources. By 2030, Google will be using, everywhere and anytime, energy that does not emit CO₂".
A strategic plan in line with the European Green New Deal. To tackle both the energy transition and the technological transformation at the same time, the network needs to make significant investments in terms of hardware and software. And within the decarbonization process and the decentralisation of energy facilities, digital twins might well turn out to be key factors.
The author: Maria Pia Rossignaud
Journalist and expert on digital media writing, she is one of the twenty-five digital experts of the European Commission Representation in Italy, director of the first Italian digital culture magazine "Media Duemila" and Vice President of the TuttiMedia Observatory.
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