As with any new and fast-growing technology, IT professionals must be aware of the potential digital twin technology benefits and challenges and its security risks so that companies can benefit from the technology without placing systems, products or end users at risk.
The growing adoption of smart technology in the industrial sector has given rise to the widespread availability and mainstream use of digital twins. About 48 percent of companies already using smart manufacturing plan to embrace digital twin technology in an effort to improve operations and provide better service to customers.
The Digital Twin: Like the Real Thing, but Virtual
Industry 4.0 is bringing sweeping changes to industrial operations. Defined by i-Scoop as “the evolution to cyber-physical systems, representing the fourth industrial revolution on the road to an end-to-end value chain with Industrial IoT and decentralized intelligence,” this widespread digital transformation is bringing a multitude of new technologies to the mainstream, including digital twins.
The concept of the digital twin originated with NASA as the organization sought effective ways to handle the difficulties associated with the Apollo 13 mission. Using data collected from sensors, a “virtual model of a process, product or service” is created. This digital representation, the twin, can then be used to visualize something physical in detail, glean critical data and apply the information in practical ways.
With digital twins established as a reality in many manufacturing businesses, the market for the technology is set to hit $15.66 billion by 2023. By 2021, half of large industrial companies will be using digital twins to transform the way they approach manufacturing and customer service.
Practical Applications for Digital Twins
Because it’s possible to make digital twins of individual components, complete assets, full systems and entire processes, the technology has broad application in a variety of areas.
Testing New Systems Prior to Manufacture
Companies can use digital twins to create and test systems, equipment ideas and service models before investing in building or implementation. If a model proves effective, its digital twin could theoretically be linked to the physical creation for real-time monitoring.
Improving Efficiency and Productivity
In a 2017 prediction regarding the benefits of digital twins, Forbes suggested using the technology could improve the speed of critical processes by 30 percent. According to Gartner, industrial companies could see a 10 percent improvement in effectiveness. The widespread availability of and diverse use cases for digital twins gives businesses in nearly all industries a better understanding of where processes can be streamlined and improved, thus helping to minimize downtime through the practice of predictive maintenance.
Managing Assets in Real Time
Using digital twins to monitor daily operations and streamline manufacturing reduces unnecessary wear and tear on machinery and alerts business owners to potential money-saving changes, such as making adjustments in fuel use. Faster maintenance and repair allows companies to maintain a competitive edge by improving overall output.
Understanding Data to Provide Better Service
Digital twins also have customer-facing applications, including remote troubleshooting. Using virtual models, technicians can conduct diagnostic testing from anywhere and walk consumers through the proper steps for repair instead of blindly relying on default protocols. Information gathered from these sessions provides valuable insights for future product planning and development.
Facing New Security Challenges
The faster a new type of technology spreads, the less attention tends to be paid to security at the outset. This forces companies to scramble to put out metaphorical fires when vulnerabilities are exploited, leading to the loss of time and profits.
Because digital twins are based in the cloud and don’t require physical infrastructure, the associated security risks are somewhat lower than with other types of systems. However, the massive amounts of data being collected and utilized is drawn from numerous endpoints, each of which represents a potential area of weakness. It’s estimated 75 percent of digital twins will be integrated with at least five endpoints by 2023, and a time is coming when visualizing complex systems may require the linking of multiple digital twins.
Every time a new connection is made and more data flows between devices and the cloud, the potential risk for compromise increases. Therefore, businesses considering digital twin technology must be careful not to rush into adoption without assessing and updating current security protocols. Areas of greatest importance include:
• Data encryption
• Access privileges, including clear definition of user roles
• Principle of lease privilege
• Addressing known device vulnerabilities
• Routine security audits
While the insights digital twins provide can help businesses make improvements in processes and gain more control over operations, the introduction of any new system creates new vulnerabilities requiring the attention of IT security professionals. Businesses seeking to implement digital twin technology must consider the potential weaknesses and take appropriate measures to guard against malicious activity so that the full benefits may be realized with a minimal amount of risk.