The Golden Thread for Digital Twins


Last month, I introduced the concept of the Golden Thread for Digital Twins. As I’ve alluded to before, Digital Twins can mean many things to many people, and as such can seem a daunting, even nebulous concept to try to turn into something real, practical and of value to your business.

After all, Digital Twins have the potential to touch almost every aspect of what an asset business does. It may even be the case that a future, comprehensive Enterprise Digital Twin not only touches, but models, operates and perhaps even manages that business.

So, where to start? What path (or thread) should you follow in rolling out Digital Twin technologies to ensure they remain manageable, deliver tangible benefits and follow a clear purpose – avoiding ending up on the Island of Misfit Toys1 with so many of those other cool new apps and gadgets that promised to change everything before actually changing…nothing?

Here are just a few examples2 of the golden threads that could help your business maintain focus when rolling out Digital Twin capabilities. They are – inevitably – interrelated. And each must at some point converge with the others, if they have been successful. But each has its own starting point; its own owner and its own priorities.

The Performance Digital Twin

Let’s start by considering two key operational perspectives on assets: performance and reliability. A Performance Digital Twin will mainly model…well…asset performance. As such, this is a Digital Twin that might be rolled out by an Operations Department, managing the day-to-day safe operation of processes reliant on a portfolio of switchgear; a fleet of rotating machines; a plant or series of plants, etc. Their KPIs might be around fuel and energy efficiency; yield (in plants, especially); operation within legal, statutory and other constraints; utilisation factor, etc. Their Performance Digital Twin will therefore focus on modelling these operational parameters.

As with all examples, any rollout will happen in two core dimensions: coverage, as the Digital Twin models more and more of the asset base; and functionality, as those models progress in their maturity from simple reporting, to analysis of past events to prediction and beyond. From the day it’s deployed, the Operational Digital Twin will be a key tool for the Ops Department to better manage the KPIs they need to manage to contribute to business performance.

The Reliability Digital Twin

This example might be something the Maintenance Department rolls out. Maintenance KPIs focus more on availability of assets and safe, cost-effective minimisation of downtime. Again, Departmental responsibilities might include anything from switches to jet engines, but whatever the asset base, their high-level goals remain the same. Thus, the Reliability Digital Twin must be one that models availability; asset criticality; MTBF3 or similar; effectiveness of maintenance interventions; etc. As in all cases, the Reliability Digital Twin’s roadmap will chart expansion across an increasing number of assets and asset classes and in maturity in advanced analytical techniques and predictive / prescriptive capabilities.

Of course, sooner or later the capabilities of such a Reliability Digital Twin will begin to overlap with what we previously described as a Performance Digital Twin (or yes, vice versa). And that’s great. As long as the value of following our chosen golden thread isn’t inadvertently lost when we see seductive new possibilities calling us away from our original goals. Don’t lose that thread!

The Lifecycle Digital Twin

Let’s now consider quite a different perspective. Our first two examples mainly address operational, rather than strategic challenges. But what of the long-term lifecycle of high-value, long-lasting assets? What of Digital Twins that model assets’ progress from cradle to grave?

In this case, let’s imagine the Asset Management Department owns our Digital Twin rollout. Their Lifecycle Digital Twin may focus on Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and / or Total Lifetime Value of assets and asset classes – or in some cases, components and component classes. Like the best asset management systems, it will follow individual assets from design stages, through commissioning to normal operation, changes in location, repairs, upgrades and other status changes all the way to decommissioning and disposal.

In other words, this Digital Twin will model everything that has happened to assets throughout their lifetime. In future, it may potentially even become a formal system of record. As this Digital Twin matures in coverage and analytic capability, it will predict the safest, most efficient and cost-effective time to replace assets instead of continuing with maintenance or allowing run-to-failure. It will prescribe how best to alter asset deployments for maximum effectiveness. It will inform Procurement decisions based on analysis of lifetime value. And much, much more.

Don’t lose the thread!

I hope the above examples have given you some food for thought on how you might begin a rollout of Digital Twin technologies and how following a golden thread can serve as a way to maintain focus in an over-hyped and nebulous domain. One of these might be the ideal example for you. But there are others. All asset businesses live and breathe safety, so perhaps a Safety Digital Twin is the way your business will begin. Perhaps a Quality-focused version will be closest to your Board’s agenda. All have merit. However your Digital Twin journey begins, good luck with it. And don’t lose that golden thread.

  1. From Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer (1964): This is the Christmas blog, after all.
  2. Credit must also go to Teradata colleagues such as Ananth Nochur; Greg Sloyer; Cheryl Wiebe for the discussions that led to these examples. And of course Jane McConnell, who I’ve cited before on this subject.
  3. Mean time between failure. But I’m sure you knew that.