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The latest Esri User Conference 2021 was a big event for virtual replicas of real-world companies known as digital twins. Real-world digital applications are also beginning to benefit from complementary technologies known as digital threads. According to Dennis Beck, president of Special Business Systems, digital threads provide a way to integrate a wide range of digital twins into a workflow for a wide variety of users. At the Esri event, users emphasized how optimization can improve snow-making operations at a ski resort, improve power network management on the power grid, and streamline traffic on foot while adjusting the Covid-19 restrictions.

In some respects, the Geographic Information System (GIS) was the original digital twin before the word was born, Beck said. He believes that the emerging focus on digital threads will improve the integration of not only data, but user processes, and GIS will often be the glue.

“It’s very important to have a system platform to tie information together, and we believe GIS is the platform it does,” Beck told an audience at Esri’s virtual gathering. He added that the industry also needs better digital threads.

What are digital threads?

In effect, the digital thread is a digital blueprint that includes a collection of data transformation models. Examples of digital threads, design models in the life cycle of a product, hardware difference language base executable and changes in databases.

Beck is characterized by digital twins as a digital model of a real-world character object that can support the relationship between objects and evolve over time. Since the mid-1980s when the industry has been working on the predecessors of modern digital twins, activity has gained momentum as new data types are always introduced faster.

Beck has done significant work for utility companies to integrate workflows covering material search capability, supply chain analysis, long-term quality control, and demolition. This endeavor involves creating user experiences that allow people in different roles to work with data in the project. Such modern applications benefit from digital twins and digital thread capabilities.

For example, Beck said, repair crews need to know the technical properties of devices such as the height of the connection. Manufacturers need to understand specifications, content information and usage conditions. Builders need detailed plans and landscape information. Maintenance teams need to know how to login without compromising the site. And finance teams need to know how much the part costs, how long it will last, and how expensive it is to maintain.

Ignore digital threads at your own risk

Beck told VentureBet that digital twins didn’t take off particularly in areas such as critical infrastructure design because its focus was on speed and efficiency. But the design came at the expense of information management.

Now the tide is changing, with improvements in devices that maintain design relationships in applications and maintain data relationships. It has become possible to create intelligent model based designs in less time than previously completing simple job sketches. For example, new capabilities such as Raster Analytics automate conversions between map images and events required for entities, objects, or other applications. Acer is also working on many new integrations and user experience capabilities to simplify digital threads.

“These rich models enable leverage integration through service-based architectures to create a general information-based ecosystem,” Beck said. “This is what is enabling digital twins and digital thread.”

With its extensive experience of Location Intelligence, Acer looks to be in a good position to complete a wide set of applications and use digital feeding cases. In various discussions at a recent event, users explored how digital twins and digital threads would evolve.

Healthy hospitals and offices

Assiri has created great pressure to bring location intelligence inside the home. The goal is to improve asset tracking, optimize facilities, and streamline facility planning. Mark Zirkelbach, health CIO at Loma Linda University, said the digital twin staff of medical facilities help plan and optimize the Covid-19 social distance signal for visitors during an epidemic. Down the road, it also wants to use digital threads so that employees have access to expensive assets such as medical devices, drugs and other regulatory assets, and crucial assets that can be scattered around the hospital like oxygen tanks.

Arup Digital expert Luke Cooper said creating digital twins in his company’s building complex has made it easier for staff to return to the office after a lockdown. Arup has 94,000 offices spread across 16,000 employees. Workers are returning to a limited schedule, and digital twins are helping to improve employee experience of finding desks and finding each other in a constantly changing environment. These technical operations also allow operation teams to figure out why employees use less office fees than others. Cooper also discovered that a shared digital twin can help improve conversations about problems when employees need to reach a consensus quickly.

Quality control facility

Other ESRI improvements have focused on expanding the use of digital threads among more users – all with the right regime. At the conference, Brian Abkunas, associate electrical engineer at Peabody Municipal Light & Power, talked about creating a workflow to make it easier for more people to notice errors in their network’s digital twins. The power company makes constant changes, such as replacing transformers or adding circuits, which are not always updated on the main map. Traditionally, one person was responsible for cross-referencing paper documents, CAD drawings and GIS maps to detect errors. Now, Abkunas’ team has streamlined the process using a web-based interface.

In another application, the Tell Tell Ride Ski and Golf Resort has recently created a digital connection to its facility to help the ambitious expansion of its ice-making operations. Digital twins, while using the least amount of water and power, allow the resort to plan for long-term sustainability, said GIS analyst and drone operator Matt Tarkington. The digital twin helps coordinate in real-time teams about critical events – such as avalanches, device breakdowns and accidents.


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