Digital Twins: The 4 types and their characteristics

by | Dec 16, 2019 | Digital Twin

In one of our last blog articles, we were focusing on what a digital twin is and what it can be used for. Today we would like to go into more detail – and highlight the four different types and applications of digital twins.

In a nutshell, there are the following 4 types: 

  • Component Twins / Parts Twins
  • Asset Twins
  • System or Unit Twins
  • Process Twins

In essence, all these types of digital twins are the same – they represent an object or process virtually and help to predict key factors like the running time or foreseeable damage. What the different types differ in, however, is the area of application. Let us now go through all types to get a more precise picture of the differences.

Component Twins / Parts Twins

As the name suggests, this is the twin of a single component in the entire system. How now? Is every screw in a car virtually reproduced in order to be able to make predictions about its service life? No, of course not, these are real key components that have a direct impact on performance and functionality. A second application is consisting of components that are not quite as important but are subject to constant high or jerky influences.

Asset Twins

Asset Twins are the next higher level of digital twins. They describe how individual components work together as an entire asset – for a better understanding: A good example of this is an engine or a pump. Asset Twins can receive information from Component Twins or be a collection of Component Twins themselves. While component twins are more concerned with the stability and durability of individual parts, Asset Twins allow you to explore an entire system. You can check how and how well individual parts work together and discover potential for improvement without having to screw around with real engines or machine gearboxes. So you can virtually – and consequently real – reduce mean time between failures and mean time to repair as well as fuel consumption while increasing factors like performance.

System or Unit Twins

The system twins, also known as unit twins, work on a higher level. They combine individual Asset Twins and give you the opportunity to check how individual assets work together – comparable to Asset Twins that combine individual Component Twins. Let’s stick to our car example: The System Twin combines all assets that are necessary for propulsion and all assets that are necessary for electricity and all assets that are needed for the bodywork, etc. The System Twin is a system that can be used for all the different types of applications.

For the sake of understanding, perhaps the example of the car factory is a bit simpler: here a System Twin brings together all the units necessary for the production of a component of the finished car. System Twins are also all about improving the collaboration between individual assets – so that the end result is maximum performance with minimum wear and tear or time consumption.

Process Twins

When a System Twin represents the production units for a single part of a car, the Process Twin represents an entire production facility and provides insight into the collaboration of all units. And then factors such as timing become important. In the closed-loop of an entire process, individual units can also produce too quickly, leading to an excess of certain individual parts and thus to high storage costs or other logistical challenges. It is only at this level that the entire complexity of monitoring via digital twins becomes really clear. Because a process only becomes functional and effective when all units, assets, and components fulfill their purpose.

The different Types of Digital Twins – A Conclusion

At the end of this article it should be clear: We are talking about higher and lower levels of digital twins here, but in reality, each level is equally important for a functioning process. To uncover optimization potential and sources of error in your company, you need to switch between the individual levels – zoom in and out, so to speak. At the end of the day, a single component can be as important as the interaction of all units. As described in the pictures, it is just as important to monitor the individual screws, which can bring the machine to a standstill, as it is to monitor the entire process, and at the end there is a finished car.

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