The concept of a “digital twin” has been around since the beginning of this century, although the name was adopted later. Dr Michael Grieves introduced the concept in 2003 at his University of Michigan Executive Course on Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), where a digital doppelganger of a physical device or product could be modelled to use in simulation and prediction of behaviour. The fact that this was a course on life-cycle management implied that the twin would be in existence throughout the product’s life.

At the time, the technology required to build and maintain the digital model was immature and prohibitively expensive. The improvement in connectivity and the rapid growth of the Internet of Things, especially the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has now made the digital twin a viable and cost-effective way of optimizing design and performance. It has been adopted in the automotive industry, in oil and gas, in construction and especially by urban planners for the “smart city”.

From being a pipe dream 15 years ago, the digital twin has moved rapidly up Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies from rising star in 2017 to top of the curve for 2018.

Source: Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging technologies 2017


Source: Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging technologies 2018

While there is growing interest in the idea, there are still many organizations that have not embraced the concept. However, Gartner predicts that by 2020, which is only one year away, 50% of manufacturers with annual revenues of $5 billion or more will have at least one digital twin project in place.

What Exactly is a Digital Twin?

Here is the tricky part; it is whatever you want it to be, we are not talking about identical twins in general, although there are some digital analogues that are very comprehensive, most twins mirror only what needs to be simulated, managed and monitored.

For instance, Japanese software company Zuken offers a digital twin of the wiring in a motor vehicle. The average length of wiring in a modern vehicle is about 5 kilometers, a complex and tricky piece of electrical engineering to manage and generally rendered in 2D. Zuken’s software, E3.HarnessAnalyser, replicates a 3D image of the total wiring harness, complying with the VDA 4968 (or VEC) standard, but making it accessible to the rest of the automotive design team.

Another example in the automotive industry is Tesla, who keep a digital twin of every vehicle they sell. The feedback from the sensors in each vehicle can be used for maintenance and fine tuning of that vehicle, but are also used to understand the whole Tesla ecosystem.

A digital twin is so much more than a 3D avatar of the physical asset; that is merely the body. What brings it to life is the shared physical experiences of its sibling, gathered in the field or assembly line by sensors. Real-life situations are shared, stimulating learning and refinement of the physical product via the effects on the digital asset.

This has much in common with a simulation produced using CAE (computer-aided engineering) software, such as Ansys, but takes the concept further, in that it uses real-time data streamed by sensors to do predictive modelling and identify potential hazards proactively. What-if scenarios can test extreme conditions that have not been encountered in historic or current data.

One of the challenges of building a digital twin is that it is more complex than a 3D rendition of a physical product; apart from the essential feedback of IoT sensors, it may be necessary to access data from other applications, such as the organizational ERP and CRM. So, while there are several vendors who offer digital twin products, these are only partial solutions. It pays to be agnostic in selecting software for a digital twins initiative, as no vendor is going to provide a 100% solution. There are however, some vendors who have seen the opportunity to build on their existing product offerings, incorporating various essential components from IoT platforms to augmented reality.

Some Digital Twin Vendors

Software vendors who have products in the engineering CAE space have capitalized on their expertise and offer digital twin products, notably:-


Altair , with its Hyperworx PLM platform, is an active participant in the digital twin market. Its offerings support simulation and machine learning, essential components in constructing a digital twin. This month it has finalized its acquisition of Datawatch, a predictive analytics and business intelligence company to further strengthen its capabilities in forecasting and analysing twin structures.


Release 19.1 of Ansys simulation platform has a new feature called Twin Builder. It integrates with all the IIoT platforms available, allowing continuous monitoring of all the assets in the digital twin ecosystem. Users are able to use all the capabilities of Ansys simulation applications and can build, validate and deploy their twin configuration

Ansys and SAP have entered a mutually beneficial agreement, where Ansys can access SAP’s ERP, while SAP wins by embedding Ansys applications into its manufacturing and asset management portfolio, enabling simulation and digital twin capability.


Autodesk have been taking their BIM capability, such as is found in Revit, and stretching it to encompass digital twin models. For those companies that have not yet moved to BIM, maybe they should consider leapfrogging straight to digital twinning, if they are confident that their workforce has the requisite skills to bypass the BIM phase. Autodesk also purchased SeeControl, an IoT cloud platform, to assist in providing the foundation for a digital twin environment.


Bentley recently entered the digital twins space, announcing iTwin Services at their annual conference in London in October. They stated that their reason for coming so late to market is that the twinning of an infrastructural asset, like a highway or a construction site, is infinitely more complex than for an automobile, for instance. This is a cloud offering, and includes alliances and cooperation with Atos and Siemens.


Dassault refer to the “virtual twin” and support it via their 3DEXPERIENCE™. With their extensive CAE product range, they are well equipped to supply digital twin capabilities, especially in the automotive industry, where they need to compete with Siemens and PTC. Building a twin to suit a company’s needs is made easier by using Dassault’s Modelica language and FMI (Functional Mockup Interface).

While it is possible to wait until the IoT sensors are installed to relay real-time data, engineers need not delay – they can design what-if scenarios to test conditions such as temperature and humidity immediately.

General Electric (GE)

General Electric’s Predix IoT platform has been enhanced to provide a basis for building digital twins. GE is using the platform to construct off-the-shelf twin solutions for specific industries. They have supplementary software and hardware, such as their Predix APM (asset performance management) and their HMI (human-machine interface) and SCADA solutions that can participate in and optimize a digital twin ecosystem.

Landmark Halliburton

With its extensive footprint in the oil and gas industry, especially in the E&P (exploration and production) or upstream space, Landmark has used its DecisionSpace® platform to bring the digital twin concept to well drilling and completion. They have defined a concept, the “Voice of the Oilfield™”, that encapsulates the digital twin components.

Source: White paper – “E&P Digital Twin in a System of Systems Model” Dr. Egidio (Ed) Marotta & Dr. Dale McMullin.


Microsoft have recently announced the launch of their Azure digital twin product, which links their IoT platform with devices, people and geolocations to provide a twin ecosystem. Unlike most of the other competitors in this market, which focus on large industry, Microsoft’s Azure platform works well for smaller businesses and business cases.


PTC sees augmented reality as an essential component of twin building and acquired Vuforia, an augmented reality company, from Qualcomm in 2015. This was done to integrate the Vuforia technology into PTC’s Thingworx™ IoT platform. Organizations can adopt Windchill, PTC’s PLM platform and integrate Thingworx. They can use AR headsets to visualize the digital avatar of the physical product, a true blending of the physical and the virtual.


Like Dassault, its rival in the automotive and other industries, Siemens has solutions for digital twinning that integrate with its PLM system. The Simcenter allows current and predictive simulations. Siemens identifies three morphs of digital twins, based on their stage in the production lifecycle:-

  • Product Digital Twins Using digital twins for efficient design of new products
  • Production Digital Twins Using digital twins in manufacturing & production planning
  • Performance Digital Twins Using digital twins capture, analyze, and act on operational data

Siemens links these three ages and stages of the digital twin via a “digital thread”, which basically is the data flow between each step of the process, with the ability to provide feedback upstream, an essential of lean manufacture.


As mentioned above, Zuken, the software specialist in PCBs and wiring and wiring harnesses, has a digital twin solution aimed at its major customers in the automotive industry. Although the offering is somewhat siloed, it brings great benefits to both the electrical and electronics engineers designing the harness and their peers who are involved in other areas of aviation and automotive design.

A Complex Licensing Challenge

Managing license compliance for digital twins will be a new challenge for license administrators, especially those working for engineering and scientific industries. From licenses for the Twin software portfolio and IoT platforms to embedded licenses used by IoT devices and AI, VR and 3D printing software, possibly lodged in a series of edge computers, the list covers every license model and permutation. There will also be GPU licenses for vendors such as Nvidia, who provide computing power to drive simulations. Add to that compliance with SAP, who are notorious for pursuing customers for breaches in use, the “build” for license management is as complex as the build for a digital twin. There probably needs to be a Chinese wall between software that drives the physical asset’s lifecycle and the digital twin’s lifecycle. This will be an emerging skill set in the license management in the next few years, especially considering Gartner’s estimation of the rapid growth of digital twinning for everything from a megacity to a domestic appliance.

Speak to OpenLM about your licensing complexities for your digital twin. OpenLM can monitor licenses for all of the engineering vendors mentioned, including Nvidia. You can also customise license management for non-engineering products with our handy extension applications.

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