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May 9, 2017

There has been a lot of discussion of what a Digital Twin actually is. I think at a high level there is an understanding that it is a digital representation of your physical object, in our case a ship. However, you start getting various different opinions when you try to get a layer deeper by asking when does the Digital Twin start, does all Digital Twin information need to live in a single system, do you have to have IoT on your physical object and what level of information do you really need?

I think it is important to have an understanding of what a Digital Twin is so we all know what we are talking about but I am not sure how detailed the definition has to really go. The analogy I use is: define friendship. I think we all understand what friendship is and can have a good conversation about friendship but I highly doubt that we all agree on the details. Does it really matter? I do not think it matters as much as the time we (mostly software vendors and analysts) spend on it. I am just as guilty as anyone:)

For reference here is what Wikipedia says which is a good enough description for this blog post:

Digital twins refer to computerized companions of physical assets that can be used for various purposes. Digital twins use data from sensors installed on physical objects to represent their near real-time status, working condition or position.

Digital Twin Allows New Opportunities

Most companies are looking at diversifying their business and searching for new opportunities to expand their offering. This is making the Digital Twin concept a very compelling story. It can offer companies the ability to branch off from just being a shipbuilder that is forgotten about after the ship is delivered to the customer. As well, it allows shipbuilders to offer an additional valuable deliverable to their customers which can save them millions of dollars over the lifespan of a ship. I have blogged about the Digital Twin trend before:

The benefit of the Digital Twin or what I like to call the Digital Ship is getting a lot of attention in the shipbuilding space which is just another example of how shipbuilding is moving away from a “traditional” industry. The Digital Twin concept is so imperative to today’s business, it was named one of Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2017. Any ship owner who is looking at SmartShips or autonomous ships will require a Digital Twin , especially to make it cost effective.

The Evolution to Digital Twin

Within most shipbuilding organizations there are literally 1000s of applications, custom scripts, databases and Excel files that run our business. The majority of these systems and tools are considered “legacy” and are always on the discussion of being replaced for a more integrated set of tools.

For any company that wants to achieve the holy grail of a Digital Twin there will be a requirement for all your tools to be connected and synchronized at least at some level. Without this linkage between these systems, creating a Digital Twin will be virtually impossible (pun intended).

So what will your organization require to evolve to support this inevitable future requirement? Here are my top 3 recommendations:

1. Choose flexible platform(s)

At the source of any information organism there are several key platforms which create, store and manage your key sources of information. The most typical ones are your engineering CAE/CAD/CAM, PLM/PDM and your ERP/MRP tools.

These tools need to be flexible to allow you to run your business the way it needs to be run. Without having a flexible platform you may be forced with running your company the way the platform vendor wants you to run your business. This has been a really big challenge for the shipbuilding industry as most platforms are not designed to support the most complex manufacturing industry which is shipbuilding. There are more details about this on my blog post Business of Shipbuilding

For you not to be constrained on your journey to the Digital Twin , make sure all your key platforms are flexible.

2. Agile Implementation

I truly love Agile from various aspects; however, I do feel that our industry is starting to have the wrong idea about Agile. The main reason is because many companies say they are doing “Agile” when actually they are only doing portions of Agile. Read my blog post Do Agile or Do Not, There is no Try to understand my strong opinions.

The key points I want to make about Agile is that on your journey to the Digital Twin we need to make sure we take small steps and with each step there should be benefit to the organization. It is too easy to get caught up in the benefits and want to get all the features implemented now. You need to handle this journey as you would any other major goal in your personal and professional life. One valuable step at a time.

3. Resilient

Reaching the Digital Twin concept will take time. I and others have called it a journey for a reason. You need to acknowledge:

  1. Your transformation will take years to complete.
  2. Your business will most likely be different by the time you reach your current transformation goal.
  3. The path toward your company’s vision will pivot during your transformation years.
  4. There will be new technologies which can/should be leveraged during this time.
  5. Your organization’s culture might change.
  6. You are going to run into some major obstacles.
  7. etc.

You will need to have tools and platforms that are resilient and provide you the capacity to recover from the only certainty you will have: there will be change.

Closing Remarks

The Digital Twin is a term that has had a lot of publicity recently in our industry. For the most part it is not a new concept but rather a nice way to wrap up a lot of things we wanted/planned to do in a single term. There is no definite detailed definition of a Digital Twin and most likely will never be, but I do not think it really matters that much.

As I have mentioned in my Future of Shipbuilding blog post series, the Digital Twin concept is on the trajectory of where the shipbuilding industry is moving towards. This does mean many companies will be starting their journey towards achieving this goal in the near future. For most, this will be the business transformation they have been looking for to differentiate themselves. To be successful they will need flexible and resilient tools and platforms. They will also need an Agile implementation strategy that is not disruptive to their current business and allows them continuous improvements during their multiyear journey.

I leave you with this quote from  IDC

“By 2018 companies who invest in Digital Twin technology will see a 30% improvement in critical processes.”

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