How Tools from Video Game Development Benefit the Industrial Digital Twin

Sept. 10, 2021
As digital twin use-cases expand, tools from the field of video game development are providing a boost to their usability and aesthetic presentation. Discover the full story on this Take Five with Automation World video.
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Quick hits:

  • Digital twin technology is increasingly being used, not only in production environments, but by sales and marketing.
  • Visualizations generated by current industrial digital twins can sometimes be difficult to decipher by non-technical users.
  • Automotive manufacturer Audi uses digital twins driven by video game technology to exhibit new vehicle designs to corporate executives.

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Listen to the story here:
Read the transcript below:

Hello and welcome to another Take Five with Automation World . I’m David Miller, Senior Technical Writer for Automation World.

Today, I’m going to be talking about a very interesting development relating to digital twin technology. Now, as our viewers certainly know, digital twins are simulations that provide end-users with a virtual copy of plant assets and production systems, and are used in industry for a multitude of tasks such as remote asset monitoring, remote training, and virtual commissioning of new facilities.

However, what we’re starting to see now is that their functionality is actually being extended being these production-oriented uses and into other business departments such as sales and marketing. And what’s even more interesting is that in order to enable this shift, technologies and methods from the field of video game development are being used to enhance the usability, aesthetic presentation, and degree of realism these simulations are able to achieve.

In essence, what you have with current industrial digital twins is, it’s true, a visual representation of plants, but the representation is often highly technical and may be difficult for someone without an engineering background to fully comprehend or make sense of. But the engines that drive video games are capable of generating highly sophisticated and realistic visual imagery that is aimed not at engineers and specialists, but frankly your average video game player—a consumer.

And on top of that they actually boast quite sophisticated physics engines that are able to replicate all kinds of interactions between objects—if our viewers have ever played or seen a modern video game played they know what I’m talking about—explosions, objects colliding and tumbling around, bodies strewn through the air, etc.? That’s all driven by physics simulations.

So, I was able to speak recently with Brad Hart, Chief Technology officer at Perforce Software, which works with companies on implementing these types of digital twin technologies, and he was able to share with me some specific examples of more precisely how this technology is actually being put to use and how it’s enhancing not only the digital twin experience for industrial users, but helping the digital twin to find new uses, like I said, in departments such as sales and marketing.

So let’s talk about some use cases. Here’s one from the automotive manufacturer Audi. Audi uses the Unreal Engine, which is what drives the popular Unreal series of video games to bring data from its production pipeline into a highly realistic, physically responsive simulation of new vehicle designs. And they do two things with these simulations.

On the one hand, they use them to test the performance of vehicles in a virtual environment—so that’s not so different from virtual factory commissioning, though it does involve some more sophisticated physics. The second thing they do is they are using the technology to exhibit their new vehicle designs to corporate executives in a highly realistic and interactive manner before even a single unit has been produced. And so the key here is they’re not just looking to create a representation that engineers will understand—they’re looking to make a very glossy, splashy sort of model that someone on the business and marketing side can see and get familiar with.

Another example—aerospace companies that build private jets for high-class clientele or companies that build custom yachts—these are very expensive, luxury pieces of equipment and those purchasing them want to know what they’re getting. So in these situations, these more realistic digital twins can be used as a marketing tool for these very, very upper-echelon types of consumers. And that’s helping them to make these frankly massive sales.

And the final thing, which is more general, is just that the previous capacities that industrial digital twins already possess for rapid prototyping and virtual commissioning are simply enhanced as the simulation technology becomes more robust. So, tests that previously involved complex calculations—even with the aid of a digital twin—can be iterated more quickly through the use of a more powerful simulation.

So, that’s all I have for you for today, but keep your eye on this space for more videos to come in the days ahead.