What Is a Digital Twin? Definition, Types, and Uses

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Virtual versions of real-world objects have become increasingly important to many businesses. Read on to find out more about this exciting technology.

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Digital twins are virtual representations of physical objects. They are used for modeling and design purposes. While the concept might sound like something out of a science fiction novel, the truth is that digital twins are widely used and becoming more common every year.

In this article, you’ll learn more about different types of digital twins, real-world digital twin use cases, and their business benefits.

What is a digital twin?

A digital twin is a virtual representation of a real-world object or system. These virtual models are used to digitally represent performance, identify inefficiencies, and design solutions to improve their physical counterparts. 

Digital twin vs. simulation

Digital twins model specific real-world assets. Simulations, on the other hand, operate in entirely virtual environments divorced from the external world. The digital models are outfitted with sensors that continuously update their virtual counterparts in real time with granular, high-quality data.


Digital twin use cases

Businesses and organizations use digital models to design, build, operate, and monitor product lifecycles. Equipped with up-to-date data on physical objects, digital twins can be paired with AI and machine learning to create detailed predictive models and forecast more accurate outcomes than most simulations. 

Read more: 3 Types of Machine Learning You Should Know

Digital twin examples 

Digital twin technology is expected to grow exponentially in the near future largely due to the expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality (VR), Extended Reality (ER), and Cloud computing [1]. It has already been adopted in many industries, which employ it in everything from product development and design to manufacturing and maintenance.

In the following sections, you can discover more examples of how digital twin technology is used across industries.

Digital twins in manufacturing

Manufacturing industries require significant research and development (R&D) throughout the product lifecycle, for example during the sourcing and transportation of raw materials through global supply chains and the physical construction of products through manual and automated labor. The complexity of manufacturing makes it an ideal industry for implementing virtual twins, which can help manufacturers enhance product quality, improve efficiency, and lower costs in nearly every step of the process. 

For example, engineers in the automotive industry might use twins to model and test prototypes in the early design phases of developing new car parts. After modeling prototypes in different simulations, they might refine the design based on insights into performance. Next, analysts might employ digital twins to model and subsequently improve the supply chain and manufacturing process required to make the final product before production begins. 

Digital twins in the health care industry

Data-driven technologies have radically transformed the health care industry in only a few decades. Whether it's used in biomedical engineering, health care analytics, or health care administration, digital twinning has the potential to provide personalized treatments for individual patients, model treatment courses, and assist in the development of novel medical devices. 

But, perhaps the most common way virtual twins can be used in health care is through their ability to monitor, manage, and improve physical health care facilities like hospitals. Using digital twins, health-care providers can model the day-to-day duties of their staff and the availability of critical resources in real time, such as hospital beds or ventilators, to improve patient care and their overall organizational efficiency. 

Read more: Digital Health Explained: Why It Matters and What to Know

Digital twin types 

You can use digital twin models to represent everything from individual components to entire systems. While every type of virtual twin fundamentally does the same thing – virtually modeling a real-world object or system – their purposes and scope greatly vary from one to another. The four primary types of digital twins are: 

Component twins 

Component twins are digital versions of an individual part of a system or product, such as a gear or screw. Rather than simply modeling all the individual parts of a product, though, component twins are typically used to model integral parts, such as those under particular stress or heat. By digitally modeling these parts and subjecting them to dynamic simulations, designers and engineers can see how the parts can be improved to ensure their integrity in likely scenarios. 

Asset twins 

Asset twins, also called product twins, are digital versions of a physical product rather than its individual parts. While asset twins can technically be composed of numerous component twins, their purpose is to understand how their various parts operate together within a single real-world product. For example, a wind turbine might have an associated asset twin used to monitor its performance and identify possible parts failure due to common wear and tear. 

System twins 

System twins, also called unit twins, are virtual representations of systems of products working together. While asset twins model real-world products comprised of many parts, system twins model these individual products as components of a larger system. Understanding how assets interact with one another offers the opportunity to improve how they relate to one another, increasing productivity and efficiency as a result. 

Process twins

Process twins are digital representations of systems working together. For example, while a system twin might model a manufacturing line, a process twin could model the entire factory all the way down to the employees operating the machines on the factory floor. 

Digital twin benefits 

There are as many benefits to using digital twins as there are applications for them.  However, some of the most common benefits of using them include: 

  • Lower overall costs and reduce time to market by designing, testing, and refining products or systems in virtual environments before mass production or roll-out. 

  • Improve operational and engineering efficiency by modeling systems with up-to-date information, testing alterations in dynamic simulations, and ultimately implementing real-world changes. 

  • Provide swift maintenance to physical assets and existing systems, such as buildings or jet engines, by continually monitoring their performance and identifying issues when they first arise. 

  • Improve the customer experience when purchasing a product or entering a retail outlet by virtually modeling their customer journey. 

Digital twin software

Digital twins are becoming more widely adopted across many industries. To create digital twins, these industries use specific software that allows them to run the complex monitoring required. Some of the most popular digital twin software include:  

  • Azure digital twin 

  • IBM Digital Twin Exchange 

  • AWS IoT TwinMaker

Gain experience with digital twins

As novel technologies become more common, so too will the importance of digital twins in the work world. Stay current through flexible online courses like the University of Michigan’s Digital Technologies and the Future of Manufacturing Specialization in which you'll learn the basics of digital twin platforms, ecosystems, and implementation.

Article sources

  1. Fortune Business Insights. “The global digital twin market size is projected to grow from $6.75 billion in 2021 to $96.49 billion by 2029 at CAGR of 40.6% in forecast period, 2022-2029,  https://www.fortunebusinessinsights.com/digital-twin-market-106246.” Accessed October 27, 2023.

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