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5 Real-World Examples of Digital Twins

From virtual hearts to Formula 1 racecars, these industries are showing off the potential of digital twins.

Valtteri Bottas driving the Mercedes AMG F1 W10 EQ Power+ during pre-season testing in Spain. Mercedes used digital twin technology to improve car performance on the track. (Photo credit: Artes Max/ Wikimedia)

You might think of digital twins as a recent innovation of information technology meeting 3D visualization but the concept actually dates back to 1960 thanks to NASA.  

The U.S. space agency created one of the first examples of a digital twin when it cloned systems on the ground level to mirror what was happening aboard their shuttles in space. A notable example of this was during the Apollo 13 space mission in 1970 when mission control used digital twins to run through simulations on Earth in order to safely bring back three astronauts from orbit following an oxygen tank explosion.  

Digital twins have since seen a gradual adoption in the last 50 or so years thanks to advancements in data collection and industry adoption in these fields:

Healthcare: Be Still My Beating Heart

French company Dassault Systèmes has been developing a digital twin of the human heart since 2013 as part of its “Living Heart Project.” They released their first iteration in 2015 where the program turns a 2D scan of a person’s heart into a 3D model made up of 208,561 miniature digital tetrahedrons, according to Slate.

Today, the digital twin has evolved into a Living Heart Human Model that mimics a healthy four-chamber human heart, complete with bio-electrical, structural, and fluid flow physics. The twin allows doctors to study general heart defects, heart diseases and even run simulations on how the heart takes to medical devices like pacemakers or annuloplasty rings.

Aerospace: Ready For Takeoff

You’d be forgiven if wheels are the last thing you’re thinking about when boarding a plane. But consider for a second how they’re actually a crucial mechanism for taking off, braking, and landing. They’re also one of the more complex sections of a passenger plane that digital twins can help simplify.

That’s the approach Safran Landing Systems, a world leader in design, development, manufacturing, and support of landing gear systems, adopted when it comes to designing their systems. From the get-go, engineers create digital twins of their processes – from the landing gear structure, wheels, brakes and system equipment – to test and modify design choices in a more efficient manner.

“Virtual integration through the digital twin makes it possible to anticipate the commissioning of our products very early on, even well before the production of the first components, said Jérome Fraval, Systems Modeling and Simulation Method Leader at Safran Landing Systems in an interview with Engineer innovation. “[This] makes it possible to observe sometimes complex physical phenomena and to adjust, if needed, the product design.” 


Automotive: Need For Speed

There are a lot of factors that can make or break winning a Formula 1 race. The engineering of the car, drivers’ skill levels or preparation, and the pit crew are all obvious factors. A relatively unknown element? Simulator analytics.

For Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, digital simulations are the “unsung hero” in winning a race. The German racing team teamed up with Tibico, a software company, to break down all the data connected to the racing team’s simulators. By using a driving simulator, Motorsport subjected their drivers and the cars through various situations to mimic real-world track conditions. Meanwhile, engineers would collect data – sometimes more than half a week’s worth – to determine the optimal set-up for race day.

“We can apply predictive algorithms to understand what changes we made at previous events to learn and predict what we’ll do at future events. Using similar examples we’ve come across in previous seasons or circuits gives us direction,” said Michael Sansoni, senior performance and simulation engineer for Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport.


Energy: Going Where The Wind Blows

When it comes to digital twins in the energy sector, General Electric has been applying the concept to its windmills since 2018. The U.S. conglomerate built a digital twin of the Haliade 150-6 wind turbine’s yaw motors used in their windmills across France.

By using sensors embedded in the turbines, workers are able to monitor the internal current to see how hot the engines would run. By tracking this data, engineers could evaluate the machine’s efficiency and determine when it was best to push engine speeds or to pull back.

“The better you monitor the temperature, the better you know the impact of the way you are using it,” says Hervé Sabot, engineering director at GE’s Digital Foundry in Paris. “The challenge here is to boost the capacity of our customer’s assets to avoid outages and have them perform as fast as possible.”

The company has since been applying its knowledge of data collection to create an app to allow for monitoring of all the company’s jet, gas, and locomotive engines.

Urban Planning: Welcome To Carson City, Nevada

Carson City, Nev. has been monitoring drought levels since 2000 but over the last few years it’s been hit with water shortages during peak periods, according to consulting firm McKinsey & Company. To help mitigate this, the city enlisted the help of Aveva, a software company, to roll out a digital twin of the city’s shared water system.

Infrastructure workers used that twin to run simulations of potential scenarios of peak usage to see how that would impact water supply levels. In the end, that led to decisions to help rebalance water usage across transportation, landfill, fleet, environmental, renewable power, and waste-water systems across three counties and led to a 15 percent reduction in operation’s staff hours due to saved “drive time”. 


An intersection in Carson City, Nev.. The town has used a digital twin to help with water shortages. (Photo credit: SofieLayla Thal/ Unsplash)

What other industries do you think could benefit from adopting digital twin technology? Sound off in the comments below.

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