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Digital Twins for Water Utilities: Myths and Realities

June 30, 2023
Min Read
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Human beings are not always patient – just think about waiting for a stoplight to turn green. The auto manufacturer Audi understands this well and, in 2016, came up with what they call: the Time to Green feature. This feature predicts and provides its drivers with the exact miles per hour they need to drive to get through a traffic light safely to carry on with their day. The goal of Time to Green was to make driving more relaxed and efficient. The same thing goes for having a system in place, such as a digital twin for your water utility, to predict when problems might occur and to make water system operation more predictable and efficient. Let’s look at digital twins in more depth.

Types of digital twins for water utilities and beyond

As per IBM, “A digital twin is a virtual model designed to accurately reflect a physical object.” Different types of digital twins can co-exist within a system. These could be:

  1. Component twins or part twins: These are digital representations of individual parts of a product. Rather than simply modeling all the individual parts of a product, component twins are used to model integral parts, such as those under particular stress or heat.
  2. Asset twins: An asset twin is a virtual representation of a physical product as a whole, and not its individual parts. Asset twins, which can be composed of numerous component twins, attempt to understand how these various parts operate together within a single real-world product.
  3. System or unit twins: These are virtual representations of systems of products working together. While asset twins model real-world products comprised of many parts, system twins model individual products as components of a larger system. 
  4. Process twins: These are digital representations of multiple systems working together and can model the entire factory to cover even smallest of the details.

Myths about digital twins

Newer technologies have always been confusing from the beginning. Think of cloud, or even machine learning and AI. It is no wonder then, that digital twins, whether used by water utilities or others, are surrounded by myths. So, if you would like to adopt a digital twin for your water utility, the following are a few of the myths that are worth addressing:

  • Digital twins are just virtual replicas: While digital twins are virtual representations of physical assets, they are much more than just 3D models. Digital twins for water utilities can incorporate data from sensors, simulations, and other sources to provide real-time insights and predictions about the performance and behavior of your utility’s physical assets.
  • Digital twins are only for high-tech industries: The digital twin technology has been widely adopted in industries such as aerospace, automotive, and manufacturing, and is finding increasing applications in a wide range of other industries such as construction, agriculture, and transportation. Implementing digital twins for water utilities is not a farfetched idea either.
  • Digital twins are only for large enterprises: While large enterprises are likely to have more resources to invest in digital twin technology and implement it on bigger projects, small and medium-sized businesses can use it too. For example, implementing digital twins for water utilities can help optimize operations, reduce costs, and improve customers’ experiences.
  • Digital twins are only for new products: The digital twin technology is often used to develop and test new products, but it can also be used to monitor and improve the performance of existing ones. This can help businesses extend life of their products, reduce maintenance costs, and improve overall customer satisfaction. This article from McKinsey explains the implementation of digital twins in product development — the sector that has been in existence since quite some time. While digital twins for water utilities is a somewhat new concept, once widely adopted, the sector will benefit immensely.
  • Digital twins are a one-time investment: Everything needs maintenance, right from the plant that purifies your water to the pipelines that serve you that water. Digital twin technology is no exception. The data used to build and maintain digital twins for water utilities, and others, must be updated regularly to ensure the twins’ accuracy. Businesses must also invest in the technology and infrastructure required to support digital twin operations. The need for ongoing investment and attention is paramount.
  • Digital twins are a silver bullet solution: Digital twin technology is a powerful tool for improving operations and decision-making, but it is not a silver bullet solution to all problems. Implementing digital twins for water utilities will need you to use it in conjunction with other technologies, such as machine learning and AI, and data sources to provide a comprehensive view of your utility’s assets and operations.
  • Digital twins require a large upfront investment: While digital twin technology can be expensive, certain cost-effective solutions can be implemented by organizations of all sizes. The cost of implementing digital twins for water utilities will depend on specific use cases and goals of those organizations/utilities.
  • A single digital twin exists for a physical entity: One perspective, from, states any physical twin may have multiple associated digital twins for different purposes, and each twin can provide a specific capability or functionality. For example, while implementing digital twins for water utilities, different digital twins are developed for different purposes, with each digital twin providing the functionality to meet that particular purpose.
  • Data is perfect: Data is always changing, as is the environment you’re analyzing, leaving it imperfect. While building digital twins for water utilities, the past and present data helps you predict what will most likely happen in the future, thus helping you reach conclusions and take appropriate actions.

It's important to understand that the digital twin technology is still evolving and there is considerable variation in its definitions and implementation across different industries and organizations. As with any technology, it's necessary that you carefully consider your goals and requirements before investing in digital twin technology.

Now that we have a better understanding of the myths surrounding the digital twin technology, let’s also look at what are its facts.

Facts about digital twins

Understanding a new technology, irrespective of its benefits, is a confusing affair. We never know what ripples wrong information can cause. For organizations that cater to public health, such as water utilities, carefully researching facts and weighing investment becomes even more crucial. Here are a few facts that will help us understand, and maybe even adopt, digital twins:

  • Digital twin technology and digital transformation complement each other: Digital transformation at water utilities has thrust new technologies, including digital twins, into the limelight. Rising roles in digital transformation encourage digital twin technology to focus on potential problems in your system, thus preventing future complications, encouraging innovation, and boosting digital transformation in the process. As is evident, digital twin technology and digital transformation do work in tandem and implementing digital twins for water utilities will only help the industry be more efficient and resilient.
  • Real-time, near-real-time, and historic data— digital twin works with all: Digital twins are powered by data, and their performance is only enhanced if the data is collected in real time or near-real time. It can certainly be constructed with historical data and updated with near real-time data (if real-time data is not available). However, as a utility matures, its digital twin may need to update frequently, which means real-time data will play an important role. It all depends on the goals of your organization, your application, and how frequently it needs refreshed data. Having said that, the use of real-time data can improve the accuracy of digital twin simulations and provide up-to-date insights into the performance and behavior of physical assets. Trinnex’s waterCAST Sewer is an example of one such system that runs with effective real-time data. It analyzes the differences between model simulations and monitored conditions to help spot problems even before they arise.

As stated, every new technology is laden with misconceptions, but with time, the dust settles, and we see overarching benefits that do have the potential to transform an entire industry, including the water sector.

Do more with less!

We are advocates of technology and innovation-enabled transformation in all spheres of our lives, water services included. We understand that utility data will never be perfect, just like data in any other industry. However, having a system in place to analyze performance, track maintenance, and prevent future problems is what can help us, and that is what waterCAST Sewer is all about. If you would like to maintain an edge above your constant challenges, implement digital twins for your water utility, and schedule a free waterCAST Sewer demo now.

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Written by
Rajan Ray
VP of Strategy & Marketing
Raj has 20+ years of experience in product marketing and strategy for high-tech/B2B digital solutions in the water industry.

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