A spirit of optimism

The IDTA as a powerful alliance on shaping the future of the Digital Twin

Interview with
Meik Billmann, Managing Director of IDTA

Meik Billmann has been active as Executive Director of the Industrial Digital Twin Association (IDTA) since April 2021. At the ZVEI, he conceptualised the IDTA together with Gunther Koschnick and the VDMA and launched the organization. Seven years prior to this, he promoted and advanced the topic of Industry 4.0 in the ZVEI Automation Association. In an interview with tec.news, he spoke about the challenges and tasks of the IDTA.

tec.news: We are currently experiencing a spirit of optimism in terms of the digital twin and the asset administration shell. What is currently disruptively different from the situation five years ago?

M. Billmann: From an internal perspective, the history of the asset administration shell initially began in a decentralised setting: In association committees, especially in the ZVEI, the specification of the asset administration shell was advanced and coordinated and disseminated by way of the committees of the Industrie 4.0 platform. In 2019, it became evident that the asset administration shell has reached a certain degree of maturity and we needed to go beyond the decentralised setting to spread the technology in the market.  So, out of the maturity of the state of development, we founded an organisation that exclusively addresses this issue and represents and develops the asset administration shell further on the market. As a result, the IDTA was founded and a point of person for the asset administration shell was installed vis-à-vis the industry as the digital twin of Industry 4.0. This makes a huge difference by comparison with the previous framework. There are many aspects to the external view: the developments revolving around the Corona pandemic, collapsing supply chains and the efforts to make them more resilient and to bring production back to Europe. In addition, there are regulatory issues such as the Digital Product Passport. All of these factors have put the Digital Twin even more prominently on the corporate agenda.


tec.news: In this type of regulation what role does the topic of green industry or product carbon footprint play?

M. Billmann: Green Industry or the Green Deal are playing a major role.  The need to record and prove the carbon footprint of products is aimed at decarbonising industry. In view of the major challenges climate change is presenting, it is crucial factor for the entire industry.


tec.news: What are your current projects that you are working on?

M. Billmann: This year, we are focusing on the one hand on working out the benefits of the asset administration shell for the digital product passport .... Secondly, we will publish an industry-ready specification of the asset administration shell to make it available to development departments for their implementation phases. Tools are being developed within the context of this specification that will facilitate the implementation and testing of asset administration shells. And finally, we are currently building up a certification system - a platform for certifying digital twins that tests their compliance with the specifications. As you can see, we have a lot of exciting topics on our agenda and we are really rolling up our sleeves.


tec.news: How does the IDTA ensure that the standard for the Digital Twin will attain global validity?

M. Billmann: The specifications of the asset administration shell are to be incrementally transferred to international standardisation at IEC. The same applies to a set of basic sub-models, our information models, in which we standardise the semantics. At the same time, we are focusing on openness and availability of our standards. Everything that comes out of the IDTA's committees we will make available as open source and free of charge.


We are working on developing a global open source community revolving around the digital twin. I am particularly proud that we are already working intensively with other countries to standardise the use of AAS. The AAS standard 62378-1 will soon be published by the IEC.


tec.news: What will the consortial standard be in the future?

M. Billmann: Our goal is to incrementally move the asset administration shell specification series into international standardisation. In particular, this will enter into the metamodel, the API and the security. These specifications are, of course, initially also a consortial standard. The situation is somewhat different with the sub-models. We assume that only a basic set of sub-models will be standardised. Partial models such as digital nameplates are among the candidates that we would like to standardise, and the process has already been set in motion here. In the case of many other sub-models, we need the agility and flexibility of an adaptable standard. What is certain is that there will be a core of standards and there will be consortially standardised sub-models that will ultimately have to fit together. After all, that’s our job.


tec.news: How many members does the IDTA count today?

M. Billmann: We have been operational for two years and we currently have a total of 94 members. What’s special here: The spectrum represents the entire range of the industrial arena - manufacturers from the fields of automation and mechanical engineering are on board as are end users and IT companies. Since our technology is geared to making information available throughout the entire life cycle and impacting on the corresponding life cycle stages, it is important for us that the entire value chain is mapped. Consequently, it is essential for us to map the supply chain and attract international companies. We been able to gain a number of US companies as members, and we also have a cluster of Korean companies and Japanese corporations among our members.