From atoms to bits: the digital twin of Industry 4.0


The technological evolution increasingly implies a shift from atoms…to bits. The reasons for this are almost always economic in nature. Besides, as we all know, to carry out given operations - such as transfers and storage operations - on bits rather than atoms is much easier. And it is precisely along this path that the so-called digital twins of products and processes are now coming to life in factories.
Digital twins are the perfect copy of a manufacturing product or process, a "projection" that is very useful especially in prototyping, though also in the subsequent research and development phases.
Many different companies - including the Italian car manufacturer Dallara – now build digital models rather than costly physical prototypes, carrying out all the necessary tests and simulations to obtain a satisfactory design. When the bit model is ready, 3D printers convert bits into atoms, obtaining the actual product.
Therefore, the entire design process becomes faster and also allows for tests and simulations that would be difficult on a mock-up. Easy, isn’t it? Not quite: to shift from atoms to bits requires diverse skills. Designers must necessarily work together with expert mathematicians, who are not always readily available. Also the design, development and production process changes: in practice, to adopt the "digital twin model", you need to thoroughly renovate your company.
In addition, the ability to collect data and to model increasingly complex realities is making digital twins leave factories. An example? The Genoese project Start 4.0, one of the eight centres set up by the Ministry of Economic Development to integrate the supporting initiatives for Factory 4.0. Its next objectives include the creation of the digital twin of the Port of Genoa with the aim of studying, modelling and simulating the operation of ports in the future, which might be able in ten years’ time to manage self-driving ships, which are considered the future of maritime transport.