How Twinning Tech Will Power Our Future
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because two versions are way better than one.
By Barbara Fletcher
OZY and Predix from GE — the cloud-based development platform built for industry — have partnered to bring you an inside look at the future of digital industries, where people, data and productivity meet.
In the face of global warming, some cities are blowing back a little … with nature’s great exhalation. Wind farms are shaking up the renewable-energy market and more efficiently powering our cities — like Burlington, Vermont; Greensburg, Kansas; and Aspen, Colorado, which now rely 100 percent on renewable energy. Meanwhile, some 30 miles off the coast of Rhode Island, five gigantic wind turbines are being installed in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean to create America’s first offshore wind farm, which will power about 17,000 homes.
Global wind capacity will nearly double between 2016 and 2020 — to a whopping 792 gigawatts — enough to power 220 million average U.S. homes. Which means we’ll need our wind turbines to run as smoothly and efficiently as possible.
Enter digital twin technology. Think of it as a clone or replica of the real thing, connected to the cloud and collecting and analyzing real-time data — an advancement that’s expected to revolutionize the power of renewable energy. Here’s how a digital wind farm works: Outfitted with sensors and using software powered by Predix, physical parts of a wind farm feed data to its virtual twins. These computer models constantly monitor the data of the real-world turbines and provide invaluable data on operations. If a potential glitch is about to happen, the digital twin catches it before it transpires. Turbine blades that may be at risk of breakage can be fixed before they fail. And through actionable, real-time data, engineers can discover new, and perhaps previously overlooked, ways to boost productivity. “Every business — including our own at GE — and every industry is being transformed by smarter digital technologies, and the greatest opportunity lies in energy,” says Steve Bolze, president and CEO of GE Power & Water.
Digital twin has recently been behind a 20 percent boost in wind-energy output in wind farms.
But it’s not just about wind turbines. When it comes to health care, digital twin will someday collect and analyze a constant stream of data — like heartbeat, blood pressure and perspiration — to remotely monitor patients over time and alert them to potential health issues. In the skies, data from sensors on airplane engines can create a virtual representation that helps optimize routes, fuel intake and maintenance needs. The virtual twin concept is “all about getting to know it — the machine,” says Colin Parris, vice president of GE Software Research. The better we can understand machine parts (or human parts), the better we can improve productivity, increase uptime, optimize the system and reach peak performance, he explains.
Consider a jet engine, where the buildup of air pollutants can lead to engine failure. To prevent issues, the engine is serviced every, say, 200 flights. Which means downtime — whether the maintenance was necessary or not. With digital twin, data from the physical engine — like turbine coating, blade design, dust and temperature — continually flows into the digital model. Analysis of this data might show that service is needed every 800 flights instead. This results in more uptime for the customer and a better-informed service team; they’ll already know which parts and experts are required for the fix, reducing time and cost.
The digital twin concept, first conceptualized by Michael Grieves at the University of Michigan in 2003, isn’t new. But Grieves, now executive director at the Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Innovative Design at the Florida Institute of Technology, sees a future where the digital twin model will become much more advanced than its predecessors. It all comes down to the “computing capabilities we have,” Grieves says.
The future of twinning tech: Being able to create, test and build equipment in a virtual world, before the physical component is made. Only when the digital model performs to optimal expectations will time and money be invested to manufacture it. But before we reach that point, digital twins will continue to evolve as mirror images, complete with front-running superpowers and improved efficiency and productivity across all industries — from reducing flight delays and predicting disease to powering our cities.
Predix from GE is enabling the adoption of powerful, secure and scalable solutions built for the industrial app economy. It’s industrial-strength strength, powering the future of industry. Get Connected.
- Barbara Fletcher