Digital twins are transforming the Infrastructure industry as we know it – Here are the top 5 things asset managers need to know

PostedWillow Team

Throughout history, infrastructure assets have had a significant impact on society, playing a key role in development and expansion. Whether it be roads, railway networks, mines, or bridges, these structures have always been a catalyst for economic and societal improvements.

But as populations and structures continue to grow in size and complexity, there is increasing pressure on all aspects of infrastructure. When even the smallest problems can have substantial financial and disruptive consequences, how can asset managers discern the right approaches and find real solutions to their problems? As digitisation takes hold across our built world, asset managers must now manage an ever increasing amount of asset data and often out of date information every single day. Identifying today’s priorities, the consequences of decisions and accurate forward planning are critical to performance and KPI management.

More and more, asset managers are turning to digital twin technologies to keep assets running smoothly, safely and on time. Digital twins have received a great deal of attention over the recent years, so how do asset managers extract the maximum business value? Today we take a look at what exactly asset managers need to know to successfully implement a digital twin on their networks.

  1. Start with the end in mind

It is essential to be clear what business outcomes you are trying to achieve with a digital twin. What problems is it going to solve? What metrics do you want to be able to measure and analyse? This will vary depending on the business and industry. Digital twins are powerful tools that can be adapted to various challenges, for example, reducing operational costs, improving maintenance team safety, consolidating multiple data systems into one central view and critically increasing revenue through more efficient rail corridors

Set up correctly, digital twins can help a business achieve increased earnings through proactively maintaining networks by improving asset reliability, decreasing maintenance costs, and enabling improved network capacity. In most cases there is often already enough live data systems to populate the digital twin and simply bringing this together in one place will drive the insights required.

Without a vision or understanding of the proposed capability of the twin, it is difficult to realise the value and measure the success of the technology. Uptake in usage within the organisation will also suffer as a result of undefined use cases. It’s essential to ensure the approach that aligns with day-to-day operations and drives business value from day on.

  1. Look for a partner with a track record

Many companies eagerly jump on the bandwagon of innovative technologies, such as digital twins, but don’t have much experience in deploying them. It’s important to pick a partner with experience in implementation and one that understands asset management in your field.

Different industries have different drivers and motivators, so understanding the nuances between passenger rail networks and heavy haul requires sector specific knowledge and experience.

Daniel Kalnins, Willow’s VP of Infrastructure Solutions points out in-depth knowledge can also lead to innovation.

Without domain expertise, the partner will only ever deliver a ’faster horse’ in Henry Ford terminology. They’ll never look create the car or the plane. And without world-class technology, the partner is often driven by their own business model rather than improvement outcomes for your business that uses technology to replace the consultants!

-Daniel Kalnins, Global Vice President of Real Assets and Head of Australia

  1. Understand the current state of your information

Current Infrastructure networks are still being managed by disconnected technology solutions – a process that creates siloed data and is a significant pain point for owners and operators. This situation will continue to worsen as, every hour, millions of new devices, systems and technologies connect online. Toggling between five or six systems might have become common practice, but the time lost in the process is rarely acknowledged, let alone addressed.

What asset managers lack, and what they need, is a single, consolidated view of their network and the real-time data required to make accurate decisions. Many systems operate reactively rather than proactively, with the technicians in the field often lacking the correct information to resolve the problems.

A digital twin allows a more proactive approach with different, independent data sources integrated into one simple user interface. It provides a consolidated view of all the data sets in one place. To set up a digital twin successfully and efficiently, asset managers need to know what information systems are currently used, where this data is stored, and which features in these specific systems are valuable. This way, asset managers can ensure that the most important information is being accessed and decisions are being made based on the whole picture. 

  1. Consider your Cybersecurity requirements

In the built world, there are a proliferation of devices and systems, such as switch sensors, signalling systems, tunnel exhaust systems, toll sensors, CCTV cameras, Train Control Monitoring Vehicles (TCMV)s, smart bulbs, people counters and more. These IoT devices increase the attackable area of the assets. Digital twin platforms are able to provide a secure platform to manage all on-premise devices. Understanding the security framework and architecture of the solution being put in place is critical. Asset Managers want to be confident that they need to have a cyber-secure approach on how to connect, structure and use their data.

WillowTwin™, for example, is safeguarded in an enterprise-grade repository and cloud-hosted solution backed by Microsoft Azure. Asset information, either live data feeds or static information, possess a lot of critical information and security is paramount.

  1. Future proof your twin – think about what technologies you may want to integrate into your infrastructure network

Finally, Asset Managers always need to have one eye to the future. Looking ahead at emerging technologies and how they can be integrated into your infrastructure network is an important task. Technologies relevant to your industry such as rail automation, driverless cars and machine learning may seem like the obvious ones but what about the impact of, decarbonisation, augmented and virtual reality, and big data analytics – are you ready?

In the old analogue siloed system, new technologies can add to the problem. With a digital twin, you can make your infrastructure systems future-ready, integrating the latest tech with ease. Without a strategy for the digital twin platform, it will be much more painful to untie and reconnect the approach and systems later.

Choosing the right digital path to absorb the ever-changing face of our technological world is the fifth and possibly most important step on the digital twin journey. Agnostic, open-source platforms that have the ability to integrate all data systems is the smart choice. Digital twins are here now and if they’re not part of your life yet they will be in the near future!

Implementing a digital twin is a journey that must be aligned to the asset management framework used within an organisation. Identifying the areas where value can be realised today while driving towards a long term vision will be critical to success

-Ben Baker, VP of Product for Infrastructure

Digital twins are already here and will soon be crucial for asset managers

The world is getting increasingly connected, and infrastructure is growing more advanced and complex. The traditional data silo systems face growing problems and mounting inefficiencies. Digital twins are consistently mentioned as one of the next big technologies that will become ubiquitous across industries.

By consolidating disparate data into a digitally secure easily accessed location, combined with the ability to be future-ready, digital twins will become ever more important. Asset managers, in particular, need to know about this technology or risk falling behind.

To find out more about implementing a digital twin for infrastructure, download our ebook here, or visit our website.

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