A digital twin is a virtual representation of a physical asset based on inputted data. In the maritime industry, we are seeing an increase of digital twin technology to simulate entire vessels or individual components such as engines or thrusters. There are also cases for digital twin technology being used in port design, such as for the new Tuas mega port which will open in Singapore in 2021.
Predominantly in the maritime sector, a digital twin allows testing to be carried out virtually, without the need to arrange for physical assessment. This can therefore save time and costs. With data captured by sensors fixed on equipment or inputted by engineers in specialist areas, a vessel or part can undergo analysis to find faults or opportunities for optimization—even before the physical structure exists.
Digitizing design in shipbuilding
In ship construction, precision is key, and digital twins show a lot of potential to enhance this. A digital twin is reliant on data, which depends on manual input from engineers in the design stage. Engineers are able to use computer aided engineering (CAE) programs to design a vessel, or its components, and precisely plan each stage and element. If using unfamiliar materials, an engineer can use the digital twin to run tests and better predict how the material will perform in certain conditions. Cloud-based software for design can be of great benefit, as data from multiple sources can be inputted into the one digital twin. Having a clear visual representation of a design can therefore streamline information flow between designers and engineers and improve communication with customers, investors, and even type approval authorities.
With increased data comes improved understanding
In existing vessels and applications, performance analysis can be done digitally without the need for expensive equipment or crew. Sensors on equipment can transfer performance data to the digital twin for increased accuracy and even real-time analysis. In overall operations, engineers can use the virtual representation to analyze a ship and find areas for optimization. In maintenance and repairs, a digital twin helps operators quickly pinpoint where a fault has occurred. With all information from all equipment in one place, they can also identify root causes much more easily. This comprehensive overview of all processes and parts can help an engineer understand why an event occurred, to avoid similar failures in the future.
A growing trend
Digital twins are not a new concept, but their use in the maritime time industry is a growing trend. In March 2018, a group of maritime companies came together to form the Open Simulation Platform (OSP) initiative. With big-name companies like Rolls Royce and DNV GL it will be no surprise if we start to see increased uptake and innovation in this area. As the technology becomes more advanced and enhanced cybersecurity allows for safe collaboration via cloud networks, digital twins could well revolutionize the way the industry works. From design, to maintenance, to performance optimization, using a virtual model opens up wider opportunities for marine engineers.