Digital Twins: Origins [Visual Explainer]

Before we get into Digital Twin’s origin story, let’s cover the basics.

What is Digital Twin technology?

Digital twins are virtual replicas of physical objects, processes or systems that unlock real-time simulation for the physical entity’s current state and behavior.

Popular use cases for the Digital Twin include predictive maintenance, performance optimization, real-time decision support, and testing.

NASA lays groundwork

In the 1960s, NASA incorporates complex simulation and modeling techniques for spaceflight missions that can be seen as an early form of what would become the Digital Twin concept decades later.

Michael Grieves

In the early 2000s, Michael Grieves, now executive director of the Digital Twin Consortium, introduces the concept of the Digital Twin during a presentation at the University of Michigan on product lifecycle management (PLM) development centers.

Grieves details this in 2006, writing in Product Lifecycle Management: Driving the Next Generation of Lean Thinking. In 2021, Grieves told ASME: “The industry needs to recognize that this is where the trend is going. They will need to invest in digital tools to keep up. The second aspect is that for the major organizations to do it themselves, OEMs need to digitally integrate from the manufacturing floor and extend it down into the supply chain. Everyone needs to adopt these tools to stay current in the Digital Twin discussion.”

NASA adopts Digital Twin

In 2010, NASA applies the Digital Twin concept for equipment maintenance and simulation use cases during space explorations.

John Vickers

The manufacturing world takes notice when John Vickers, a principal NASA technologist, helps popularize the term outside of space exploration.

Digital Twins go mainstream

In the mid-2010s, digital twinning starts gaining real traction with innovative manufacturing organizations on ambitious digital transformation (DX) journeys, including General Electric (GE), which uses digital twins for applications such as wind farms and gas turbines.

Popularity surge

The Digital Twin concept surges in popularity in parallel to the explosion of Internet of Things (IoT) technology advances. Gartner includes it in its Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies in 2017.

Digital Twin Consortium

The Digital Twin Consortium forms in 2019 to begin standardization efforts for digital twinning.

COVID-19 accelerates adoption

In 2020-21, the Coronavirus pandemic drives wider scale adoption of digital twinning as manufacturers invest in technologies enabling remote collaboration and virtualization.

Today and beyond

Applications for Digital Twin technology have become increasingly sophisticated. The concept is now being implemented into manufacturing processes by companies of all sizes as buzz continues to grow.

For a fun and quick explainer on Digital Twin technology, check out the .pdf at the top of this post.

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