How to create a digital twin of your factory, plant or industrial facility

The Digital Twin is a new buzzword, and everybody seems to want one. But how is this achieved? I am sure that the definition of Digital Twin is not the same for everybody. I can link to the Wikipedia definition of course. But in the world of 3D laser scanning, the term takes on a deeper meaning.

realism is possible unlike never before

CAD models have been around since the 80’s, and those of you who are old enough will remember some of the first renditions of virtual reality. I saw a demonstration in my middle school gym glass which would have been around 1985. It had a wireframe pterodactyl. It was cool but even as 7th graders we knew that the technology just wasn’t there. That wireframe flying dinosaur against a black void wasn’t fooling anybody. Fast forward to 2021. With 3D laser scanning services and high end graphics, it would be quite a thrill to be enveloped in the sights and sounds of a prehistoric environment, with a giant bird bearing down on you. This realistic suspension of disbelief is only possible with highly realistic graphics and a great display device, two things that are not only possible, but affordable.

What Changed?

How come creating a virtual reality digital twin is now considered a feasible project? Well, feasible is a relative term and dependent on your budget. But from our standpoint, the process is not unlike a typical reality capture project, where we use 3d laser scanning services to capture and digitize a physical space. The 3D scanning services themselves have become affordable, and the software and expertise required to create the VR worlds is becoming more abundant. There are talented artists and engineers throughout the world that are available to help with such projects. This is in large part due to the gaming industry driving the democratization or VR and producing free or very affordable development tools. It also helps that one can buy an Oculus for around $300.  Back in the 90’s an equivalent technology would likely have been six figures.

Step 1: Capture the 3d laser scan

The use of 3D laser scanning services takes the difficulty out of the most important step – capturing the environment. Every place is different, but the 3D laser scanning process is flexible and adaptable to capture nearly any environment. There are limitations of course, but most situations involve routine 3d scanning techniques.

step 2: create the digital model from the scan

A lot can go into this step, and it is easier said than done, but as a practitioner from 3D laser scanning and as-built modeling, this is part of our job and we can quantify the work and assign a cost to it.  Of course, there are many types of CAD models, such as different proprietary formats and different levels of detail. Not all CAD models will be adequate for a virtual reality digital twin. It is likely that extra attention will be needed to create realistic appearance, sprucing up the model so that it looks compelling.

Step 3: Connect database information

Here is the tricky part. When using the term “digital twin”, most people agree that it goes beyond just a static CAD model, and that it needs to have updated information with it that corresponds to what is happening in the real world. There is a lot of room for interpretation here, and a wide range of possibilities between having some simple metadata that is accessible, to live plant sensor data that is continuously being updated in the VR scene. This is where the rubber meets the road with digital twins, and sometimes requires rolling up the sleeves to integrate sources of information.

It’s cool, but how does it help me?

Just like with 3D laser scanning, people who need VR know what they are looking for. It’s another way of saying, if you have to ask you wouldn’t understand. But we don’t need a reason to know that it’s just plain cool to have a 3D virtual reality version of your plant. Build it and they will come!

Keep reading: more articles about 3D scanning

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