Digital twin simulations that provide end-users with a virtual copy of plant assets and production systems, though not yet ubiquitous in industry, have been used for tasks such as production monitoring for some time now. However, new contributions from the field of video game development may both expand the core functionality of digital twins and extend their use from operations management to other departments such as sales and marketing.
According to Brad Hart, chief technology officer at Perforce Software, video game engines such as Unreal, which gave its name to the popular “Unreal” first person shooter franchise, boast sophisticated visualization capabilities and complex physics engines that make them the perfect tool for enhancing digital twin simulations. Current industrial digital twin software is, for the most part, highly technical and may require an engineering background to fully comprehend. By improving the accessibility, quality and realism of the visualizations, game engines like Unreal could help unlock new applications for digital twin technology.
For instance, automotive manufacturer Audi has brought physical data from its digital twin production pipeline into the Unreal engine to simulate the design of new vehicles. Not only can the performance of these vehicles be tested in a virtual environment, but their designs can more easily be exhibited to corporate executives in a highly realistic and interactive manner long before a single unit is actually produced. Similarly, aerospace companies that build private jets can share design blue prints with customers far more effectively via the use of a digital twin simulation.
“Think about 3D models put out by digital twins in the past. They’re still for engineering minds—not for the sales team, marketing executives, or consumers,” Hart says. “These people want to be as close to feeling the end product as possible. They want to be able to touch it before it’s physically built. These more sophisticated visualizations open up the utility of the digital twin to more people.”
In addition, the use of powerful game engines may make rapid prototyping, digital planning, and virtual commissioning of plants and equipment easier to achieve. 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 robust simulation.
Still, those in industry working on digital twin technology need not fear game developers stealing their jobs. While automotive, aviation, and several other manufacturing sectors are seeking game developers to help them build more realistic industrial simulations, the tasks they are performing complement rather than replace those performed by others.
“Without a doubt, some of the biggest manufacturing industries are bringing game developers onto their staffs to assist with this. It really is opening up opportunities for people in game development to branch out into new industries,” Hart says. “But it doesn’t preclude what people already in manufacturing working on digital twins are doing. We’re just augmenting the skillsets that already exist within these organizations.”