Digital twins are a digital replication of a current asset, supply chain or process. They are an advancement on current models and simulations in that they operate in parallel to the real process, mirroring the asset, supply chain or process in a digital world. They tend to be of high value and importance to an enterprise, warranting the effort needed to create a digitised replica. Digital twins use real-time data and with the help of data analytics and AI, it is used to optimise and improve their performance. According to the analysis report, digital twins market value is estimated around $8 billion and it is expanding rapidly in other sectors such as retail and pharmaceuticals.

According to Darling digital twins serve three functions, they;

  • monitor their real-world counterparts in real time,
  • allow us to virtually fast forward operations to better predict outcomes,
  • are sandboxes for us to test hypotheses and enact changes without disruption or risk to the asset or business itself.

One of the earliest and best examples of the use of digital twin was NASA’s rescue mission on Apollo 13. “When Apollo 13 was crippled by an oxygen tank explosion, mission control 400,000km away on Earth needed to run root cause analysis, systems assessment and basically figure out a way to get the crew home. It was the team of engineers’ ability to mirror the spacecraft systems and situation back on Earth that allowed them to run continuous scenarios until landing on the idea to slingshot around the Moon.”

Digital twins of water and sewerage treatment plants are now in use, across some utilities. These include features such as;

  • Interacting of SCADA, automated sampling and plant operations,
  • Real time monitoring and modelling to drive process improvements,
  • Remote support and coaching on O&M activities,
  • 3D walkthrough for WHS and design reviews.

It is likely that BIM concepts will merge into digital twins over the next 10 years. Digital Twins of networks are emerging from traditional networking models, being integrated with SCADA, network flows & pressure and automated sampling.

Current urban water research involves intelligent sensing, systems integration, proactive users and data- driven management through advanced analytics. The convergence of building information modelling with the smart water field provides an opportunity to transcend existing operational barriers. Such research would pave the way for demand-side management, active consumers, and demand-optimised networks, through interoperability and a system of systems approach.

While digital twins are emerging, it is likely all new plants and major upgrade moving forward will require the development of a digital twin.

David Nixon has worked the water industry for over 30 years across a variety of utilities, engineering and business consultancies. David currently acts as director and advisor to a variety of organisations across Australia.

Credit: Darling & Howell

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