The Uses of Digital Twin Technology in Aviation
As the boundaries between physical and digital are blurred, the world transitions into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Centred around fusions of technology, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterised by artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and quantum computing.
Digital Twins are part of this Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Digital Twins are:
“Virtual replicas of physical devices, products, or entities created by combining data with machine learning and software analytics to create digital models that update and change alongside their real-life counterparts.”
Within the aviation industry, Digital Twins utilise big data to allow for the streamlining of processes, identification of future challenges, and acceleration of new tech. Through the Digital Twin, new practices can be attempted without impacting the original enabling companies to answer the “what if” scenarios. These also provide companies with huge datasets which can then be used throughout the business.
Although less than five per cent of businesses currently have Digital Twin technology, by 2028 the global Digital Twin market is set to be worth $96.32 billion.
How it works
A Digital Twin is made by “gathering data and creating computational models to test it. This can include an interface between the digital model and an actual object to send and receive feedback and data in real time.” Within aviation, this technology is being applied in two main areas of the industry: in creating the plane and streamlining airports.
On the plane
Manufacturers of aviation components are utilising Digital Twins to aid their production. Through creating a Digital Twin, the engineer does not need to rely so heavily on probability and can instead turn to virtual model. Rolls-Royce, who produce engines used in aviation, currently utilise Digital Twins to fine tune their engines and simulate a variety of conditions.
To ensure the Digital Twin is accurate, sensors are installed on the physical engine to collect data which is fed back into the Twin in real time. This enables the Twin to “operate in the virtual world as the physical engine would on-wing.” This is then used to simulate a variety of circumstances which you would not wish to replicate on-board, enabling insight into the engine that would not previously have been available. Boeing, one of the largest aircraft manufacturers in the world also utilises Digital Twin technology in their development and saw a forty per cent improvement in first-time quality of parts.
In the airports
Digital Twin tech is also used to create digital models of physical airport environments. This is used to optimize operations, costs, and passenger experience. Willow and Parsons Corp. won a five-year contract from Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) Airport to create and support a digital twin for their maintenance and operations of Runway 18R/36L and Terminal D. As these were recently renovated the airport already possessed significant volumes of data to fill into the Digital Twin. In the case of DFW, it is a cloud-based twin which will eventually be filled with forty years of accumulated information from the airport.
Vice President of Informational Technology at DFW International Airport, Michael Youngs described the Digital Twin technology as being able to “provide real-time situational awareness and drive operational efficiencies. […] to ultimately get to a place where you can anticipate an issue even before it occurs, so you’re improving your operations and, at the same time, ideally making for a pleasant passenger experience.”
DFW is not alone in their pursuit of Digital Twin technology, Gerald R. Ford Airport in Michigan partnered with Aurrigo to create a Digital Twin to simulate circumstances like severe weather and flight delays. Hong Kong International Airport is also experimenting with Digital Twins.
At this Year’s World Aviation Festival, Robert Horton from DFW Airport will be presenting on “How DFW are using Digital Twins, AI, IoT, and other game changing tools to hit ambitious sustainability goals” there will also be a roundtable on “Digital twin or digital disaster? Building with clean data.”
Article by Jess Brownlow