In their ‘IoT Signals: Manufacturing Spotlight‘ report, Microsoft and Intel summarize that maintenance monitoring and automation are the biggest overarching areas that companies are banking on when it comes to industrial IoT technologies. They are also the foundational elements of smart factory integration, which is skyrocketing in popularity. In fact, of the senior and mid-level managers based across North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific that were surveyed for the report, around two-thirds of them view smart factory adoption with enthusiasm. One of the innovations that stem from this trend is an idea known as digital twins. While it may be in early stages and in need of further development, spending on digital twins is predicted to be above average, according to Microsoft and Intel. So, if this is likely to be a part of the future of manufacturing and industrial operations, it is worth exploring.

Defining Digital Twins

To start, it’s important to explain what a digital twin is. As Automation.com reports, The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defines digital twins as “a fit-for-purpose digital representation of an observable manufacturing element with a means to enable convergence between the element and its digital representation at an appropriate rate of synchronization.” What does that mean? Essentially, a digital twin is virtual recreation of a real-world component.

This kind of replication is created to help enhance operations and can be applied throughout the production process from design to manufacturing and service. Boosted by other innovations such as data visualization capabilities, digital twins are increasingly becoming a part of the Industry 4.0 revolution taking over many companies’ approaches to business.

Industries Adopting Digital Twins

There are a number of industries testing out the use of digital twins. Many of them are “asset-heavy industries” as put at Automation.com They include aerospace, automotive, industrial products and oil and gas among others. But that certainly isn’t the extent of the list. For instance, Unilever is highlighted as a key success story for digital twin implementation. By utilizing digital twins in its manufacturing and production line, it was able to amplify overall productivity and reduce waste in the meantime. In turn, it was named supply chain leader in 2019 by Gartner.

Examples of such adoption are likely to grow. It has been forecast by McKinsey & Company that 70% of manufacturers will use digital twins just in 2022 alone.

Concerns with Digital Twins

Past 2022, the market value of digital twins is expected to reach $48.2 billion by 2026. But as with any expanding trend, concerns also arise. A potentially big issue with digital twins lies in cybersecurity. Because they rely on large sources of data stemming from systems throughout an organization, including partners, digital twins run the risk of interception by hackers. If a bad actor were able to compromise the “bi-directional” exchange happening between digital twins and the systems they communicate with, critical information could be stolen, malware could be spread, or a take-over could unfold. Therefore, security measures are absolutely necessary when introducing this technology.

However, like cybersecurity in general, there is also concern around skills and talent gaps that could impact proper and safe dependence on digital twins. On the bright side though, James Tyrrell writes at Tech HQ that “as adoption rises, it follows that integration challenges – which are exacerbated by a lack of trained personnel – are likely to ease.”

Digital Twins Security

As skill level catches up to the rate of acquisition, there are steps that can be taken in the interim to improve digital twin protection. In a piece for Entrepreneur, Ralph Tkatchuk outlines several ways to approach this process. First up is evaluating security practices, which consists of reviewing security resources already in place as well as access protocols. It is also important to ensure that IoT devices used throughout operations are aligned with security strategies since digital twins are entwined with them. Once these are all checked, another step is to run controlled scenarios of attacks so that the ability of these systems can be tested.

In addition to such practices, it is also beneficial that operators implement strategies like zero-trust and seek out collaborators that can assist in adjusting networks to these modern demands. It is then that they can open themselves up to game-changing developments like digital twins and handle the challenges in a smart and secure manner.

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