As our nation’s fast-expanding utility and communications infrastructure become more complex every year, the value of creating a digital twin of a company’s assets grows ever clearer.
It saves time and money to have an accurate, measurable virtual replica of crucial field assets, accessible from the desktop of an engineer, joint use professional, or contractor. A digital twin can take the form of an actual 3D photo representation, a comprehensive set of data on the asset, or something in between.
Communications equipment is being deployed at an accelerating pace on utility poles, streetlight poles, buildings, and new stand-alone structures. Many individual decisions are necessary to ensure this happens safely, fairly, and in compliance with regulations. Those decisions can be made much more quickly and efficiently if each step in the process does not require a separate site visit. Companies are finding digital twins (however you define them) can help streamline the process. (For a more detailed introduction to digital twin technologies, click here.)
The immediate benefits of a digital twin are substantial, but they’re just the beginning of the trend for companies in the next few years. The key driver in this process will be the rapidly evolving Internet of Things (IoT).
What Is the Internet of Things (IoT)?
The Internet of Things is an interconnected network of sensors that enables automation, integration, remote monitoring, and remote control of systems ranging from home electronics to traffic to factory equipment. Many people first became familiar with IoT, mainly in terms of personal uses, such as smart home technology that gives the homeowner more sophisticated control over home security, appliances, and HVAC. The technology also is essential to the operation of self-driving automobiles.
IoT was conceived years ago and has gradually emerged into the public consciousness, but from a long-term perspective, it’s still in its infancy. A great buildout in communications infrastructure is underway to lay the groundwork for an IoT network that will change the way homes, automobiles, and numerous public systems operate and interact with each other.
An important segment of IoT is the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), which will bring IoT advantages to company operations in many industries. It also will bring many new applications to digital twin technology.
A Real-Time Digital Twin
One great promise of IIoT for utilities and communications is the idea that it can bring a digital twin fully “alive.” For example, a utility systems engineer could access the digital twin of a substation hundreds of miles away and examine that asset exactly as it exists in the present moment. She could review the condition of the structure, the temperature of the equipment, the humidity of the air, the electrical throughput, and whether the unit’s security has been breached in any way.
Access to comprehensive, real-time IIoT data from the field, integrated with the digital twin’s capacity to represent dimension, weight and operating characteristics, will be a game-changer.
Productivity & Projection
Companies harnessing this concept will make huge gains in productivity. The cost, time, and human effort required to obtain data on a company’s plant will be greatly reduced. Digital twin solutions and IIoT will take the slack out of many aspects of everyday operations.
Predictive capabilities are a big part of these savings. On a small scale, for example, sensors will communicate when a piece of equipment begins to run hotter than usual. The owner can then analyze the situation and, if needed, replace the equipment before it fails.
On a broader scale, personnel will be able to run large sections of the plant through a series of simulations to test the effects of variables ranging from equipment changes and construction to extreme weather events. This capability will empower them to make proactive decisions and will have the potential to reduce downtime drastically.
At this stage, no one is certain what further advances in digital twin and IoT technologies may be just a few years ahead. The possibilities are intriguing.
Here at Alden, a forward focus is essential to keeping our products and services on the cutting edge of technology designed for the joint use community. We are as excited about the possibilities the Internet of Things holds for all of us.
A data-driven strategy, however, is not future stuff. That task isn’t daunting if you have the right partner and the right tools. Alden One®, the nationally recognized asset management platform for joint use, is the perfect tool for organizing, analyzing, sharing, and reporting asset data.
If you’re interested in learning more about Alden’s products and services, click below.