By 2030, hundreds of billions of dollars could be saved annually from optimizing city planning with digital twin simulation technology.

Back in 1970, America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) used multiple virtual simulators (i.e. digital twins) in the Apollo 13 mission for training and contingency use. At least two major problems on the actual mission, and probably a lot more, that were successfully resolved because of the availability of simulation technology.

Now, many organizations worldwide are also benefiting from using digital twins technology to streamline processes, enhance facilities and even entire cities.

In 2017, digital twin technology was identified by Gartner as one of the world’s ‘Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends’. 

Application of digital twins

The automotive manufacturing industry is benefiting from the use of digital twins. Ford Motors uses as many as seven digital twins for each vehicle model it builds, and also in areas such as energy conversion, manufacturing process and customer experience improvements. 

In the healthcare sector, digital twins are used to simulate procedures and designs of facilities for cost savings, sustainability and even COVID-19-proofing.

In the energy sector, entire wind farms have digital replicas that have sensors collecting data in real-time with the end-view of improving the actual farms.

The hospitality sector has also made use of the technology to provide personalized service to guests.

Aside from hotels and farms, entire cities are now banking on digital twins to further their development. Shanghai, with over 26 million residents, has a digital replica. The clone city garnered predictive data about floods to improve disaster control, while bridge maintenance and traffic congestion were also targets for improvement. In Singapore, digital twin technology exploration started as far back as 2014, and gathered varied data such as elevation of buildings, climate, and even location of trees. Clicking on a part of the clone city can indicate for you, for instance, how much electric power is consumed in a particular building. 

Benefits for city planning

With the right digital twin simulation programs in place, cities can attain as much as US$280 billion in cost savings by 2030, according to ABI’s Smart Cities and Smart Spaces research service, which combines extensive interviews with in-depth analysis of major market trends.

Dominique Bonte, Vice President End Markets, ABI Research, noted: “Digital twins will become the ultimate tool for city governments to design, plan and manage their connected infrastructure and assets in an efficient and cost-effective way. Cost savings can be obtained in key areas, such as energy and utilities, transportation, safety and security, and infrastructure (roads/buildings). However, urban digital twins also offer many other advantages in terms of supporting and improving sustainability, circularity, decarbonization, and the overall quality of urban living.”

Efficiencies can be achieved across a wide range of asset categories and use cases:

  • ‘First time right’ designs of buildings and other physical infrastructure avoiding expensive modifications after completion
  • Energy-efficient building designs maximizing solar capacity yielding lifetime long energy savings
  • Resilient and safe infrastructure designs reducing policing and emergency response costs
  • Optimized designs of utilities, streetlight, and surveillance networks to achieve the same coverage target with less capex
  • Design of covid-19 proof buildings resulting in healthcare savings  
  • Digital twins enabling efficient eGovernment in terms of the seamless exchange of data with citizens for mediation purposes

While the cost-saving advantages facilitated by digital twins simulation can allow cities to achieve fast returns on investments, Bonte said, the increasingly complex nature of connected and smart urban infrastructure — especially in view of future smart urban concepts — will simply mandate the deployment of digital twins as critical, holistic management tools.

According to ABI Research, leading suppliers offering urban digital twin planning solution suites include Engie-owned Siradel (telco, surveillance, streetlights, mobility), Dassault Systèmes (generative building design, energy, airflow, green infrastructure), Siemens (buildings, electric digital twin), ANSYS (lighting, Covid-19), IES (energy-efficient campuses), Bentley Systems (ports, water distribution), Microsoft, AutoDesk, PTV (transportation), and CityZenith (districts).

Some vendors specialize in specific capabilities such as physics modeling and simulation of light, heat, airflow, noise, radio wave propagation (ANSYS, Siradel), generative design (Dassault Systèmes), and dynamic modeling of vehicle and pedestrian traffic (PTV). Underlying all solutions is their capability for virtual prototyping and scenario analysis.