Digital twin (DT) technology has come a long way from its origins at NASA. Even before Dr. Michael Grieves presented the concept of using digital, virtual product modeling in 2002, physical equivalents were in use. We would likely have lost Apollo 13 had there not been a physical duplicate on the ground for testing — right down to the duct tape on hand.

Today, DT technology is widely used in manufacturing, especially for tech-heavy products. Companies are expanding their digital models into actionable virtual twins that enhance manufacturing processes for production, assembly, testing, and maintenance. For example, Airbus now has a virtual twin of its manufacturing line for helicopters. Production machinery across assembly lines is simulated in 3D and updated in real-time to monitor production changes. The process increases production process transparency, leading to higher efficiency and improved product quality.

There have been three distinct developmental levels of DT technology: discrete, composite, and interconnected. Companies starting with digital twins create them for a single product, part, or process. The twin monitors and optimizes performance within a specific value chain. Composite DTs integrate discrete DTs with other external data sources to simulate and predict the future behavior of a system.

Interconnected DTs provide benefits to the broadest possible audience. They enable the use and commercialization of vast amounts of heterogeneous data. They establish cross-company data spaces and the ability to share based on cross-company standards. This data is not stored centrally but instead at the source.

The Interconnected Digital Twin (IDT) is one of two trends currently under adoption by progressive manufacturers. The second is the gigafactory.

The concept of IDT takes the original technology and elevates it to the systems level. IDTs are networks of virtual representations, facilitating communication and data exchange across the stages of product and process lifecycles. IDT goes beyond isolated instances of digital mirroring to promote comprehensive simulation and real-time monitoring system-wide, creating a virtual twin experience.

A research team at RWTH Aachen University recently completed a Delphi study on the growth and potential of IDTs with 35 international experts participating. The research team also did a complementary analysis of 22 use cases. Their forecast reveals four key concepts that will result from the increased use of IDTs:

  1. Digital manufacturing will become more decentralized in data exchange;

  2. Digital manufacturing will become more transparent to increase environmental sustainability;

  3. Digital manufacturing will become increasingly dependent on AI-assisted decision-making;

  4. Digital manufacturing will become more outcome-oriented through subscription models enabled by real-time bidirectional data flows.

According to the researchers, IDTs will challenge existing understanding of value creation and capture. The discrete and composite twins will be integrated within and between manufacturing firms and other key stakeholders. The IDT becomes the operating system, enabling application software to read data from and send control signals to various devices, including IoT-enabled products. This development mirrors a larger industrial shift to digital, platform-based business models.

Tesla’s use of gigafactories is revolutionizing EV manufacturing and spreading to other manufacturing segments. Large casting machines, known as gigapresses, produce large, intricate parts of a chassis in one unified piece. By integrating large chassis sections into single-cast pieces, Tesla has innovated key design and manufacturing efficiency aspects.

Reducing or eliminating traditional multi-part assembly creates a more cost-effective production cycle. Gigacasting shortens the assembly line and accelerates overall vehicle production time. In most cases, it has also offered lightweighting opportunities that were not possible with traditional design and manufacturing methods. Gigacasting is not just a manufacturing innovation but a strategic element in designing more effective and sustainable electric vehicles.

Gigacasting is still evolving. Tesla has noted it is a difficult process to master. Different parts of a gigacast part cool and contract at varying rates. Assembly is complicated. Due to tolerance issues, there are unconfirmed reports from early use of gigacasting that Tesla could only use 10 percent of its gigacast parts.

IDTs are not merely a wider visual representation; they are dynamic models that behave and respond to conditions just as they would in a real-world operational scenario. Tesla, Toyota, Stellantis, and others adopting gigacasting are also among the leaders in using virtual twin technology. As gigafactories become more common, the increased use of IDTs will become essential to continued innovation.

Interconnected Digital Twins and gigacasting won’t just co-exist; they will synergistically enhance each other to advance manufacturing efficiency. It embodies a paradigm shift toward more sustainable and intelligent manufacturing processes.

For more information, visit here .