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Experts Explain: Digital Twins

In this fresh series, POWER’s editors choose a multifaceted topic that may have myriad applications or implications and ask an array of key industry stakeholders for their perspectives. This month’s topic: digital twins.

POWER magazine, in partnership with its sister publication Chemical Engineering, hosts the Connected Plant Conference, an event focused on the multitude of connected industrial devices that have become critical to efficient plant operation. Digital twins rank high on the event’s list of topics, along with fourth-generation sensors, Big Data, edge technology, and augmented and virtual reality. However, as many of POWER’s readers and event attendees have pointed out, an explanation of what a digital twin is within the power industry is sorely due, given the broad range of how digital twins are perceived and applied.

To get some perspective in this case, POWER questioned Achalesh Pandey, vice president of Artificial Intelligence and Digital Transformation with GE Digital; Lars Draws, IdentiQ product lead for Hitachi Energy’s Grid Integration business; Scott Stallard, chief technology officer with Twinify Technologies LLC, a joint venture between Black & Veatch and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME); Carsten Baumann, director of Strategic Initiatives and solution architect with Schneider Electric; and experts with DTE Vantage, a subsidiary of DTE Energy that operates through several affiliated companies. Here’s what the experts said.

What Is a ‘Digital Twin’?

Achalesh Pandey, GE Digital: “A digital twin is a living, learning digital representation of an asset, process, system, or network used to achieve specific business outcomes. The twin harnesses the power of data and models to provide early warning detection, continuous prediction, and dynamic optimization capabilities. It also allows users to run simulations of potential future events and plan for a specific set of likely outcomes, increasing important metrics like efficiency, productivity, and, ultimately, profitability.”

Lars Draws, Hitachi Energy: “A digital twin is a virtual representation that is designed to accurately reflect a physical asset or system, providing insight into the systems’ performance or lifecycle. IdentiQ™ is a game-changing digital twin solution built on our unique domain expertise and leadership in power grid technologies and innovation. It is a significant addition to Hitachi Energy’s digital offering and supports our customers’ efforts to continuously enhance the efficiency and reliability of their grid investments. Specifically, IdentiQ is a digital twin solution of a high-voltage direct current (HVDC) converter station, STATCOM [static compensator], or other power quality solution.”

Scott Stallard, Twinify Technologies, LLC: “It is interesting to note that a number of definitions of digital twins exist, each typically aligned to either the function of the twin or architectural tenets. For Black & Veatch, a digital twin is a virtual representation that serves as the real-time digital counterpart of a physical object or process. There are three important parts to the twin:

  • The model of the object or process;
  • An evolving set of data relating to the object or process;
  • A means of dynamically updating or adjusting the model in accordance to the data Digital twins combine the power of standardized structure in concert with the ability to tailor or refine each “copy” of the digital twin as it is applied to a particular asset or project.”

Carsten Baumann, Schneider Electric: “A digital twin is not an end-result, product, outcome, or technology in and of itself. Instead, it’s a dynamic data-supported framework that functions as a business enabler leading to results, products, outcomes, or new technologies. It’s a means to an end, and the end is solving a real-world problem with real-world data. Digital twins give users the ability to model certain operations in a digital environment. Ideally, a digital twin represents the entire life cycle of a project. It incorporates all seven dimensions of digital contraction. 3D represents the physical dimensions, the 4th dimension represents cost, the 5th schedule, the 6th sustainability, and the 7th the operation and maintenance.”

DTE Vantage: “DTE Vantage views a digital twin as a virtual representation of the operating facility with real-time operational, maintenance, and asset information.”

What Key Power Sector Applications Does A Digital Twin Serve?

Pandey: “Digital twins are useful because they take data and match the real-time conditions of an asset, process, or network. At GE Digital, we have built digital twins for failure prediction and diagnostics, performance prediction, life prediction, dynamic optimization, and real-time control applications. We are using asset, system, and network-level digital twins for the power generation, power grid (transmission and distribution), manufacturing, and aviation industries. For example, we’ve built digital twins to test scenarios and provide automated restoration capability to help stabilize the grid during extreme weather events, prevent unplanned downtime for power generators, and improve integration and orchestration of renewable energy so electricity is reliable and affordable regardless of its source.”

Draws: “Hitachi Energy has created IdentiQ as the digital twin of an HVDC converter station, STATCOM or other power quality solution. Key applications:

  • Provide relevant asset information, analytics and operational data in an intuitive and easy-to-navigate dashboard, which users can customize to match their needs.
  • Include 3D interactive visualization of the complete asset
  • One-click access to all the associated plant and equipment information, including: engineering documentation; operational and maintenance procedures; and safety training
  • Live operational data for monitoring and analytics.
  • Timeline functionalities for planning and documentation of maintenance and other asset-related activities.”

Stallard: “Black & Veatch has deployed various forms of digital twins over the last 20 years, primarily in the realm of power plant performance and energy/water asset portfolio strategies. In each case, digital twins were composed of a combination of analytics (i.e., first principle or engineering), machine learning, diagnostics logic, and simulation. The key is to be able to leverage a consistent analytical perspective across different needs and situations—to deliver insights as to best course of action, risks, opportunities, etc. More recently, Black & Veatch has embarked on modernizing and extending the digital twin usage via a combination of platform development and strategic partnerships. In particular, Twinify Technologies, LLC was formed by the American Society of Mechanical Engineering (ASME) and Black & Veatch to develop and deploy high fidelity performance digital twins.”

Baumann: “There are multiple applications where Schneider Electric and our clients are leveraging digital twins. Industrial manufacturing modeling, startup, and commissioning offer agility, accuracy, and simplicity. In data centers, which represent more complex power architectures, digital twins are often used in training that prevents disrupting the production environment. ETAP [an energy management software platform] is a good example of where the power flow and its breaker coordination can be simulated. This all leads to improved speed to market, reduced onsite required resources, and lowers performance and project risk.”

DTE Vantage: “The DTE Vantage Dearborn Central Energy Plant at Ford’s Research and Engineering Center facility utilizes a digital twin as a “single source of truth.” This means the combination of the following: operational data, asset database, computerized maintenance management system, and inventory management into a single location. This essentially encompasses everything from calibration records to standard operation procedures, and spare parts are all in one spot rather than spread across multiple systems. We’ve also integrated our digital twin with our advanced pattern recognition software and drones.”

What Challenges, Misconceptions Related to Digital Twin Deployment Would You Highlight?

Pandey: “Business process integration and change management are the most challenging tasks in deploying and reaping the full benefits of digital twins. Some technical challenges are data quality issues, model management, and asset configuration tracking, etc. The benefit of digital twins is their predictive capabilities with deeper insights. These predictive capabilities and deeper insights are used to drive actions through business workflow integration or close-loop control. These digital twins are also used in study/simulation mode to run tests on your assets or on your processes and networks on an exact duplicate, except in the digital space. These digital simulations enable you to make numerous adjustments to see how the asset, process, or network responds to different events. And the more data you provide, the more the digital twin can help you predict future outcomes.”

Draws: “The challenges for power grid stakeholders are related to being more sustainable and eco-efficient by enabling comprehensive remote analysis and support and by digitalizing paper-based information on older installations; flexible by adapting to continuously changing asset performance needs over the entire life cycle; secure by complying with industry-leading cybersecurity standards and protecting all asset data and information from being misplaced or destroyed; and safer by providing virtual training on on-site procedures, required clothing and evacuation routes before staff visit a site.

The key benefits of deploying IdentiQ:

  • Improves the safety of people working on-site in dangerous high-voltage areas;
  • Reduces the time spent searching for information in multiple documents and locations and eliminate the disorganization and clutter of paper and binders;
  • Provides each person (including less experienced people) with the tools and information they need to improve decision-making and reduce their dependence on the expertise of others;
  • Records all actions taken on an asset and the outcomes achieved to ensure lessons are learned and shared;
  • Makes asset videos, photos, documentation and data easily accessible for operations and maintenance personnel; and
  • Ensures the solution meets the customer’s requirements for data ownership, security, integrity and privacy. The fact that it is also fun and easy to use this state-of-the-art visual interface is another benefit and something current and future engineers expect in a modern work environment.”

Stallard: “We believe that the full power of digital twins will be enabled by various twins and analytics systems working in concert with each other to, in essence, combine intelligence and insights, and fully address the situation at hand. This will allow digital twins to radically improve capabilities both in context of the assets themselves but also in the context of systems and markets served. Hence, it is critical that modern digital twins are designed to participate across a broad spectrum of needs and platforms.”

Baumann: “I think there is a misconception as to what a digital twin should look like. Frequently, customers think of a digital twin as a visual model of the physical asset. However, this is not always the case. From a power perspective, a single-line diagram can be used to model and simulate the performance characteristics of the power distribution architecture. Hence, it’s not a 3D model spinning in virtual space. Additionally, past the initial modeling, keeping the model up-to-date to reflect any changes that may occur during the implementation and operation of a system is critical. Otherwise, it will fall apart and its value to learn, adapt and improve. Changes ought to happen in the digital twin first, prior to implementing changes in the real environment.”

DTE Vantage: “It takes a dedicated team to integrate and normalize the usage of new technologies, especially in a power plant setting. However, once a digital twin is established the benefits of the system are tremendous, as it becomes self-sustaining. At DTE Vantage, we have found that this technology allows us to continually improve and optimize operations, as there are so many new possibilities and capabilities that facilities can incorporate to suit specific needs.”

Sonal Patel is a POWER senior associate editor (@sonalcpatel@POWERmagazine).

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