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The digital twins promise to bring digital transformation to various industries by harmonizing data flows between applications and users. However, this interest has also fueled growth in various trade groups, standards bodies, and consortia to ensure interoperability. The concern is that raising so many standards could slow down adoption significantly.
These concerns form the backdrop to the Digital Twin Consortium (DTC) announcement last month of a major open source effort to facilitate collaboration of digital twins between different groups on open source projects, open source code and assurance of security. open source to tackle this Tower of Babel.
Digital twins provide a way to unify data across many applications and user types for larger projects. But the industry has struggled with data and application silos. Open standards should make it easier to develop applications that span these silos. Some of the biggest challenges include the lack of a standard definition of what a digital twin is, the integration of back-end data sources, and the provision of a standard information model.
A recent survey created under the auspices of the Industrial Internet Consortium, a DTC link, identified at least eight different efforts across the industry working on various aspects of the digital twin standards. These groups are working to solve various pieces of digital twin interoperability in various end use cases. But their efforts have been isolated and several elements related to open source, open specifications, or an open development model have yet to be addressed.
Organizations driving digital twin technologies include:
- Institute for Innovation in Clean Energy and Smart Manufacturing (CESMII)
- Digital Twin Consortium (DTC)
- Industrial Digital Twin Association (IDTA)
- Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC)
- Open Industry 4.0 Alliance
- Open Manufacturing Platform (OMP)
- Platform Industry 4.0
In general, standards group participants today hope to go beyond just sharing code and create open source content and data. That’s according to David McKee, CTO / founder of Slingshot Simulations and co-chair of the Digital Twin Consortium.
McKee told VentureBeat that government agencies are moving to open important data sets. But these efforts exist independently and often without reference to the tools and technologies that are actually used to generate or read the relevant data.
“This initiative highlights the need to unite them to generate value [and] showing how digital twins are based on data using tools to read that data and also generate new data for decision making, ”said McKee.
Participants also hope that this effort will facilitate the bringing together of several new technologies that come with their own active communities of developers and end users, a rich set of tools and methodologies, as well as advanced standardization efforts and open source tools for specific applications. domains and industries.
Better collaboration should lower barriers to adoption, Dr. Tabet, chief architect of the CTO office at Dell Technologies, told VentureBeat. “Open source collaboration will accelerate the adoption of digital twins that today rely on enabling technologies such as AI, modeling and simulation, IIoT and Edge, 5G, and high-performance computing,” he said.
Until now, the emphasis of the various groups of digital twins has been on standards, but standards need enabling software that runs on all platforms. Enhanced collaboration could boost the digital twins industry, much like the Interop conferences did Internet adoption.
In the mid-1980s, the telecommunications industry seemed poised to adopt the open systems interconnection standards advocated by telecommunications companies. Meanwhile, another group began experimenting with a much lighter set of protocols based on the evolution of local area network technologies called TCP / IP. The proponents organized Interop conferences to show how their teams could work together over a common backbone connected via open source software.
Similarly, the development of open source collaboration for digital twins could drive the practical adoption of approaches that are based on different tools that interoperate today, rather than creating over-engineered specifications that are too complicated to work together.
Strike the right balance
Digital Twin Consortium technical director Dan Isaacs told VentureBeat that the group is working to find the right balance between interoperability and keeping projects simple and extensible. A major problem has been removing all “open source” proposals that include requirements to purchase proprietary items.
The group believes that open source projects can be more flexible and respond more quickly than their closed counterparts. With open source, there are a significant number of developers and professionals available. Additionally, the open source culture can increase everyone’s desire to build and contribute in meaningful ways, as exemplified by Linux or the various Apache projects.
The DTC is also in the process of establishing branches around the world with close ties to academia, local government, and private industry. He has also been expanding relationships with other organizations such as the Linux Foundation, Fiware, and others.
“These and other ongoing activities serve to further drive adoption and showcase the value of the digital twin in terms of open source implementations and open source standards requirements,” said Isaacs.
Dangerous road with promise
Gartner Vice President and Analyst Peter Havart-Simkin told VentureBeat that, for now, all existing digital twin standards are proprietary in some way. “There is no open multi-vendor standard for a digital twin that can be used by third parties, and there is currently no open multi-vendor digital twin integration framework,” he said.
In the Havart-Simkin estimate, digital twins exist as templates for a particular provider’s asset or they exist as a set of enabling technologies that allow users to build their own digital twins. In many cases, digital twins exist buried in platforms such as IoT platforms or in business applications such as asset performance management (APM).
The industry lacks a digital twin app store where companies can purchase a digital twin template of an asset they own (for example, a pump at an oil refinery). This could be possible with the advent of an agreed set of standards for digital twins that includes a definition language for digital twins. It would also require a framework within which the digital twins of multiple vendors can be combined to define the digital twin of a composite asset, for example, allowing the combination of a digital twin of a brake system from one vendor with the gearbox of another. in a larger digital twin of a car.
A big concern is the ownership of the intellectual property of assets. This could lead to restrictions for third parties to create digital twins of assets they did not build. That, in turn, could pose the old problems of fenced gardens.
Havart-Simkin also believes that the industry currently suffers from too many proprietary approaches, although, in the future, it may make sense for digital twin standards efforts to align according to vertical markets, such as turbines or buildings.
Meanwhile, DTC’s current effort shows promise, Havart-Simkin believes. He said it has a very broad global membership that will, to a large extent, prevent certain vendors from trying to appropriate the proposed standards for their own benefit.
The Digital Twin Consortium membership is extensive: it includes Ansys, Autodesk, Bentley, Dell, GE Digital, Microsoft, and many others. The real key here, Havart-Simkin emphasizes, is the scale of participation and membership of the Digital Twin Consortium.
“There is absolutely no doubt that moving towards open source, open data and open specifications is the only way this will benefit all developers and vendors and all end-user organizations who want to build their own.” Havart- Simkin said.
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