And what does Digital Twin actually mean?
Already 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 actually 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 there are 2 parts to the concept, the physical product and the digital or virtual product. These 2 parts are connected to each other which is often called the Digital Thread. The concept was used primarily in the industrial world.
The use of a Digital Twin
The concept of the digital twin in the healthcare industry was originally proposed and first 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. In building and construction, one can consider Building Information Modeling (BIM) a Digital Twin model.
The Digital Twin terminology is creeping into the world of Product Information Management
PIM is all about being able to have a single source of truth for your product. The richer the data, the more information you can provide to 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. Some PIM vendors refer to this as a 360 view of the product. What we see happening is that 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 will be delivered directly from the manufacturer or wholesaler to your customer. It is important that you as a seller are able to represent these products from different angles so your customers are able to make up their minds about whether to buy your product or not. You need to have as much digital information about the product as possible, this way you compensate for the lack of the physical product. You need a lot of information about this product which needs to be consistent and available throughout your organization. This is exactly what PIM is for.
May we call PIM a Digital Twin?
Of course, this is a matter of definition. In the literature, it is mostly mentioned 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 to me like a new marketing opportunity to attract customers with a new buzzword.