In 2002, Dr. Grieves proposed the concept of a Digital Twin as the conceptual model underlying Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). NASA mentioned this concept for the first time as Digital Twin in a 2010 Roadmap Report.
But what does Digital Twin mean? Wikipedia uses the following definition “It is a digital replica of a living or non-living physical entity. By bridging the physical and the virtual world, data is transmitted seamlessly, allowing the virtual entity to exist simultaneously with the physical entity”.
So the concept has two parts: the physical and digital or virtual products. These two parts are connected, often,n called the Digital Thread. The concept was used primarily in the industrial world.
The use of a Digital Twin
The digital twin concept in the healthcare industry was initially proposed and used in product or equipment predictions. The idea evolved and ultimately led to the concept of a virtual patient, with a detailed description of the current healthy state of an individual patient and not only on previous records. Philips came up with the idea of a digital version of yourself.
In the automotive industry, its concept is heavily used to develop and update the functionality in the software of cars like Tesla. It enables them to resolve most maintenance issues remotely by using the received data of the ‘living’ side of the digital twin. Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a Digital Twin model in building and construction.
The Digital Twin terminology is creeping into the world of Product Information Management.
PIM is all about having a single source of truth for your product. The richer the data, the more information you can provide your customer. The representation of the physical product needs to be mirrored in the digital product. It must be accurate and needs to stay accurate. Moreover, some PIM vendors call this a 360 view of the product. It is now also referred to as the Digital Twin concept.
In the long-tail strategy of your organization, the product may exist only in your virtual world. The physical product will be available through drop-shipment and delivered directly from the manufacturer or wholesaler to your customer. As a seller, you must represent these products from different angles so your customers can decide whether to buy your product. You need to have as much digital information about the product as possible; this way, you compensate for the lack of the physical product. It would help if you had a lot of information about this product, which must be consistent and available throughout your organization. This is precisely what PIM is for.
May we call PIM a Digital Twin?
Of course, this is a matter of definition. The literature mostly mentions it as a new way of dealing with PLM. PIM is not a PLM system, but you can configure a PIM in a way it covers some PLM functions. As such, the physical product is mirrored in the digital version of a PIM system. But referring to a PIM as a Digital Twin sounds like a new marketing opportunity to attract customers with a new buzzword.