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Watch out for digital legacy in manufacturing

Digital twins are the next innovation in manufacturing, but will the file formats and hardware be around for as long as the assets being modelled?

Almost half of organisations using the internet of things (IoT) said they will be developing digital twins, according to a recent Gartner study.

Based on a survey of 202 organisations in the China, US, Germany and Japan, the survey reported that respondents expected their use of digital twins to triple by 2022.

The analyst’s forecast suggest that, by 2020, at least 50% of manufacturers with annual revenues in excess of $5bn will have at least one digital twin initiative launched for either products or assets.

However, Gartner has identified a gap in the digital twin approach that could derail long-term plans to digitise real-world machines as digital twins.

It warned that digital twins with long life cycles – such as buildings, aircraft, ships, factories, trucks and industrial machinery – tend to be refreshed at a far slower rate than the IT industry is accustomed to, which could prove problematic.

In its Four best practices to avoid digital twin failures report, Gartner noted: “As an example, we studied the press releases of the major mechanical design software and hardware vendors. We found that these vendors deliver major new generations of design software and hardware every five to 12 years, which can be incompatible with prior generations of software and hardware.

As a result, it said the life cycles of these digital twins extends well beyond the life spans of the formats for proprietary design software that were most likely used to create them, and for the means of storing data.

“This means that digital twins created in proprietary design software formats have a high risk of being unreadable throughout their service life,” said Alexander Hoeppe, research director at Gartner.

Additionally, the digital twin evolves and accumulates growing historical data, such as geometric models, simulation data and IoT data. As a result, the digital twin owner risks becoming increasingly locked into the supplier with the authoring tools, without appropriate planning.

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“CIOs can guard against this if they increase the viable life of digital twins by setting a goal for IT architects and digital twin owners to plan for the long-term evolution of data formats and data storage,” said Hoeppe.

Gartner recommended CIOs insist that their software supplier selection teams include backward, as well as forward, compatibility of data for relevant categories of software as an important criterion, including evidence that the supplier has a strong track record.

Gartner said each time that the IT department plans hardware upgrades, the team should ensure that they consider migration and readability of digital twins and retaining the integrity of the data.

It also recommended that digital twin owners adopt well-established ISO standards to document digital twins and associated data. These include ISO Part 10303 (for geometry, configurations and product life cycle support; ISO 14306 (the JT format for visualisation) and ISO 14739 (3D PDF).

Gartner suggested that product lifecycle management (PLM) teams and the IT engineering team within manufacturers could work in partnerships with software companies that build design-related and PLM applications based on ISO standards.

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