The right time for the Digital Twin is NOW!

Interview with
Dr. Kurt D. Bettenhausen, Board Member New Technologies & Development, HARTING Technology Group What is your definition of a digital twin within the context of an industrial environment?

Dr. K. D. Bettenhausen: I perceive the Digital Twin as the digital image of a real existing asset – regardless as to whether large or small. And not only during the planning phase, but throughout the entire life cycle. Where do you think that Digital Twin developments are heading?

Dr. K. D. Bettenhausen: I think it's the same here as with automated driving, where we differentiate between five different levels: From simple assistance systems through to what we call autonomous driving. This is where I see the parallels with the digital twin, starting with drawings - initially in the simplest version just created digitally, sort of like a PDF document of something. In the highest level version, the Digital Twin is permanently connected to the real asset. It receives various sensor information so that, for example, the ageing and wear process can be fully recorded and an expert always knows precisely what the real object looks like on the basis of the digital image. In addition, functions of the real object can be influenced by an actuator depending on the given state. As a technology megatrend what does the Digital Twin have to do with the corresponding social megatrends?

Dr. K. D. Bettenhausen: At this point, the topic of sustainability is clearly linked to the aspect of the "Product Carbon Footprint" (PCF). Already during the creation process of a product, for example, complete transparency about the PCF of the materials employed can be established. What’s more, it is also possible to provide precise information on efficient product use. And we finally wind up full circle with the "End of Life": In order to reuse products, they must be separated into material units. If this separation is not clarified for the disposing party, the subsequent reuse will become difficult. A digital twin that is provided right from the outset provides information about the components of a given product. These can then be separated according to their type and returned to the material cycle. In this context, the ZVEI Product Passport is already playing a pioneering role. The Association of the Electrical and Digital Industry has already published a position paper on this topic. Is the digital twin also relevant in the context of globalisation/deglobalisation?

Dr. K. D. Bettenhausen: In this context, I always like to refer to the "breathing net". I need the same model everywhere so that I can manufacture products everywhere, so that I am able to produce them where I need them. And accordingly, possibly also within the context of "production on demand" – which means that I am only producing products when they are actually required. We need digital twins for shorter value chains. As a result, we are turning the supply chains upside down. How does this reference to the megatrends manifest itself in the corresponding HARTING solutions?

Dr. K. D. Bettenhausen: Our products are being deployed in various industries and markets. They are found in environments where the probability of failure and downtime must be kept as low as possible and where high-value or safety-critical processes are taking place. This results in the following three sub-divisions for HARTING:

  • We are users of digital twins. By producing and using connectivity, we create the foundation for realising our products with digital twins. In concrete terms, that means the following: We harness the digital twin, both for our products and for our production facilities, which in turn feature a digital twin. In addition, the products we produce are based on other components that we also integrate into this production as digital twins.
  • We are producers and providers of digital twins. We equip our products with digital twins, thereby mapping our products completely digitally and creating digital versions of them. We are engaged in a process of consistent further development so as to be able to fully exploit lifecycle service opportunities in the future.
  • With these activities, we are “enablers” of digital twins. The digital twin in our products generates meaningful benefits for our customers. Based on their integration into equipment, plants and systems our connectivity allows us to offer services that play a significant role in the life cycle. By way of augmented reality, the digital twin can create a connection between users and systems, for example when it comes to replacing components. Finally, we also support our customers in the use of the digital twin.
 As DKE President, what context do you see in terms of standardisation?

Dr. K. D. Bettenhausen: Digital twins can only unfold their benefits if they can be used in a uniform manner by everyone and are made available everywhere by everyone. Consequently, proprietary formats make no sense. For this to work on a worldwide scale, a semantic description will be required that that is accepted universally and ensures a sufficient degree of interoperability in the area of standardisation. The more we charge a digital twin with information, the more it will evolve from pure design, diagram and electrical connection data to becoming complete simulation models. What is being developed today within the framework of the IDTA as the foundation for further work at the IEC aligns with this: a format that, on the one hand, must be provided equally by all parties involved, and on the other hand, can also be used by everyone for this purpose. It is important that guidelines, rules and structures for a digital twin are established within the framework of the asset administration shell. Proprietary standards will only deliver short-term benefits and will merely delay the acceptance and use of this technology. We need to work with a universally valid exchange format that can be used by all parties involved - otherwise the benefits will be lost. And where are the user benefits in your opinion?

Dr. K. D. Bettenhausen: We are talking about connectivity here and we can therefore specifically identify 5 decisive, clearly defined benefits:

In our latest issue we are addressing individual aspects by way of concrete examples. We are firmly convinced that NOW is exactly the right time for the digital twin. Today, the technologies and standards are available, and what’s more, the respective demands are also being made. The demands made on sustainability and resilience mean that we need to be far more transparent about our value chains. And finally, we need autonomous processes - both in development and in operation - to relieve the workloads on humans, for example, and to compensate for skills shortages. These are all decisive factors that can only be dealt with by digital twins as essential enablers.