Digital Twin – What is it and how does it work

Technology has become all-pervasive today, embedded in our everyday lives. It shapes how we think, act, react, and solve problems. Imagine how amazing it would be to simulate contingencies, processes, products, and facilities before making actual changes to any of them. It would put you not just one step ahead but many steps ahead of your competition. This is what the digital twin technology offers businesses, and boy, they are grabbing it like anything!  

This article explains what digital twins are, their types, and their history. It also sheds light on the various use cases of digital twins.  

Let’s unroll!  

What is the Digital Twin Technology?  

A digital twin is, in simple words, an exact virtual replica of a real-world entity. This entity could be a process, a facility, or a product. It comprises three essential elements: 

  • A real-world physical entity. 
  • It’s virtual replica in software form. 
  • Data that links these two elements together.  

The idea behind the technology is to enable users to have accurate, reliable, and real-time information about a physical system or object. Although many digital twin representations come in the form of 2D and 3D CAD Integration images, they can also be represented through non-visually represented media like spreadsheets, databases, or equations.  

Governments, international organizations, and businesses are all interested in this technology for its incredible benefits. Thus, the digital twin technology now encompasses factories, buildings, warehouses, and even villages, towns, and cities. But we will get to its use cases later.  

Let’s first discuss how it works.  

How does a Digital Twin work?  

Experts and specialists (mathematicians and data scientists) build digital twins. They find out the physics of a real-world object or system that needs to be imitated by the digital twin. The data they generate is then used to create a mathematical model capable of simulating the original entity in digital space.  

The twin is made in a manner that it receives Internet of Things input through sensors on the original object. Therefore, the twin is capable of simulating the object in real-time and offers important insights about its performance and problems (if any).  

However, simulation and digital twins are two different things. Sometimes, simulations are performed on digital twins, but they are not a given characteristic of them. Similarly, simulations on their own do not amount to digital twins. That’s because no robust network connections or an information-gathering data model is associated with them.   

While you can simulate any phase of a product’s lifecycle, digital twins encompass the entirety of the lifecycle. It changes with the changes in the entity. Thus, digital twins offer an accurate account of original entity information by gathering vast amounts of real-time data.  

Moreover, CAD simulations are based on a designer’s imagination, whereas digital twins represent actual data gathered through IoT sensors.   

History and Types of Digital Twins  

The concept of studying a physical object goes back to the 1960s when NASA used it in its space exploration missions by simulating a spacecraft replica to discover possible problems. However, the term digital twin did not exist back then.  

It was David Gelernter who first propounded the technology in 1991’s publication of Mirror World. However, it was Dr. Michael Grieves, a famous academician, who actually applied the concept of digital twins to the manufacturing world in 2002. Eventually, the term “digital twin” was coined by NASA’s John Vickers in 2010.  

  • Parts Twins – Parts twins, also known as component twins, are the smallest and most fundamental type of a functioning component.   
  • Asset Twins – An asset is formed when two (or more) components function together. Asset twins enable you to inspect how these components interact. This generates a sizeable amount of performance-related data you can process and turn into actionable insights.  
  • System/Unit Twins – System or unit twins allow you to understand how various assets interact and work together to form a whole functioning system. They give you insights into how you can enhance the performance of your assets and systems.  
  • Process Twins – Process twins offer a comprehensive, bird’s eye view of how various systems work together in a production facility. They help you figure out how multiple systems are synchronized and how a delay in one system impacts another. Thus, they help you achieve efficiency by ascertaining precise timing schemes.   

Digital Twin Use Cases  

Digital twins  can be utilized in so many industries. However, that does not mean that every process, product, or facility requires a digital twin to be effective and efficient. Usually, healthcare digital twins work best where the real-world entity, suppose a product, is complex enough to require a regular flow of real-time data for it to function optimally.   

Thus, not all objects require a digital twin, nor is it financially viable to have one for everything. You must weigh the benefits of the digital twin technology before investing in it, for it costs a lot of money to create a digital twin.  

Here are a few popular use cases of digital twins.  

  • Manufacturing – The manufacturing industry uses digital twins most extensively. In fact, manufacturing companies are the pioneers of digital twins. These companies use it to streamline their processes to achieve higher levels of efficiency. You can create a digital twin for parts of a product, an entire product, a production process, or a system.   
  • Energy – Electricity companies are also exploring the technology to better design, manage, track, and maintain power plants, grids, and transmission lines and understand consumption patterns. The same technology is also beneficial for alternative energy sources (renewable energy) to improve their efficiency.  
  • Healthcare Healthcare digital twins provide better treatment options and care to patients by creating digital twins of patients and comparing them with each other.   
  • Urban Development & Construction – Companies design large buildings and oil rigs using digital twins. Others focus on infrastructure, with entire villages, towns, and cities becoming the study points.   

Industries engaged in large-scale and complex production processes can really benefit from this technology. These include the following industries:  

  • Automobile manufacturers  
  • Railcar & Aircraft Industries  
  • Energy sector  
  • Construction industry  
  • Manufacturing companies  


The digital twins industry is set to achieve rapid growth in the coming years as new use cases emerge and more companies deploy it for greater efficiency. In the year 2020, the industry was already worth over $3 billion. It is believed to grow to nearly $50 billion by the end of 2026 – a very steep rise indeed!  

Xavor builds digital twins for its clients worldwide. If you want to know more about our technology solutions, contact us at [email protected] 

We would love to build one for you!  

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