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Digital Twin Technology’s Sustainability Potential

The world’s leading scientific institutions – including the United Nations’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – have made it clear that global climate change is one of humanity’s greatest threats, one that will require businesses, organizations, governments, and citizens to fight with all the tools at their disposal. For businesses and industries, especially those that have historically been responsible for large amounts of emissions, physical waste, and environmental alteration and extraction, this means finding innovations and technology that will enable big environmental impacts quickly. Enter digital twin technology. 

Digital Twin's Main Benefits

Organizations and industries around the world are increasingly turning to digital twin technology to develop and implement more sustainable products, processes, and workflows. In fact, in our latest global survey report, 69% of respondents said they already leverage digital twin; and of those who said they didn’t leverage digital twin, 58% thought their organization would adopt it in the next two years. Moreover, of those who currently use digital twin, 71% said they began using it within the past year. 

Undoubtedly, digital twin’s adoption has skyrocketed and companies believe in the technology. Why? Because digital twin technology accomplishes the hallmarks of modern sustainability: 

  • It lessens organizations’ carbon footprint, meaning it reduces carbon dioxide emissions stemming from raw material extraction, design, production, operation, and service/maintenance;
  • minimizes the amount of physical material and energy needed to design, develop, produce, and service products and processes and;  
  • makes it easier and more efficient for teams and organizations to gather information from existing products and processes that they can use to enhance future designs.

Digital twin technology can do this because it gives organizations the power to design, test, and improve products without having to create as many physical prototypes, which are typically massive sources of material use and physical waste. By moving the prototyping, testing, and optimization phases of the product lifecycle to a virtual environment, organizations significantly reduce not only the material needed to create multiple iterations of prototypes, but also the demand for materials and the amount of byproducts they need to develop products and processes now and in the future. 

While this may seem quaint on the level of an individual organization, it has enormous benefits when we scale its impact on the international community. In essence, digital twin technology lowers the initial demand for materials – thereby lowering demand for deleterious raw material extraction – and makes sure all materials used in products are used to their fullest extent. And, of course, digital twin’s data capabilities ensure teams can monitor and improve products with shorter timelines and a clearer vision.

Building Toward Circularity

Additionally, digital twin technology promotes sustainability by laying the foundations of circular processes, and more broadly, circular systems of production and consumption – usually called the circular economy. Under these systems, products and materials are designed, used, and recycled/refurbished so that they can be used for as long as possible, even indefinitely. The primary benefit of circular systems is that they minimize material waste and ensure that products are built to last and that products and materials are easily recycled and reused when their initial lifespan is up. 

Thanks to digital twin technology, organizations can glean unprecedented levels of material and material use data that let them determine the best ways to use materials, the best ways to refurbish products and designs, and the best ways to build better products and processes to ensure that materials don’t end up in our atmosphere, groundwater, soil, air, or landfills. We’re seeing this today especially in the realm of plastics and plastic usage, since plastic is virtually unbiodegradable in the natural world and has a nasty habit of finding its way into water and food supplies. 

Sustainable Digital Twin in Action

So how are organizations applying digital twin to create a greener, more efficient future today? Let’s take an industry that affects everyone – agriculture. In the agricultural sector, organizations are using digital twin technology to make farmland more fertile, increase crop yields, improve seeding patterns and distribution, maximize water usage, improve harvesting machine efficiency, minimize fertilizer usage, and more. By building virtual representations of real-world conditions, and by monitoring real-world data to improve the representations’ accuracy, scientists and engineers can ensure farmland is less susceptible to drought, arable for longer periods of time, and they can also ensure seeds get the nutrients, space, and sunlight that will deliver the best possible yields. Since the agriculture industry is a significant actor in the rush to reduce emissions – and is also responsible for keeping billions of people fed – digital twins can and will play a key role in building a better, greener industry.

And digital twin technology contributes in small ways as well. Take, for instance, a vehicle’s level of aerodynamic drag. By reducing drag, vehicles can drive longer and expend less energy, be that in the form of gasoline or electricity. With digital twin, designers and engineers can conduct virtual tests analyzing different variations of designs and parts so they can minimize drag without needing to build a single physical component (or vehicle). For example, if you reduce a vehicle’s aerodynamic drag by 10%, vehicles can add 5% to their highway fuel economy and 2% to their city fuel economy1. Consider the effect that has on the millions of cars that take the road each day – how many barrels of gasoline could we save? How many kilowatts of electricity? And what happens when we scale those effects up to a planet’s worth of vehicles and their lifespans? Not only would the vehicles demand less energy, but the demand for raw material extraction would lower as well, thereby minimizing the emissions needed to pump, refine, and transport gasoline or generate and transport electricity. 

So even though digital twin’s ability to reduce things like wind drag or fertilizer use might seem like inconsequential individual design features, these innovations’ aggregate ramifications are proven sustainability game-changers. 

The Future of Digital Twin-Enabled Sustainability 

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of digital twin is that, currently, organizations worldwide have only scratched the surface of what the technology can do in terms of sustainability. This is both a challenge and an opportunity, because though current digital twin “maturity” is low, its upside is immense. Regardless, one thing is certain – digital twin has a central role to play in driving sustainability innovations and building tomorrow’s circular economy, and organizations around the world are using the technology to build tomorrow’s future. 

Already, 73% of respondents from our global survey said that digital twin made their products and processes more energy efficient and less wasteful. Overall, 85% said their organization is either already using, or plans to use digital twin to meet their sustainability objectives. And most importantly, of those who already use digital twin, 92% said that digital twin has helped their organization create more sustainable products and processes. 

More than anything else, digital twin gives us the opportunity to ensure we do our part to mitigate the worst effects of climate change and to secure a livable future for the generations to come. After all, we can no longer produce and support products and processes that prioritize the present at the expense of the future. Sustainability is both a practical and moral obligation, and Altair wants to lead from the front, to develop technology that can help organizations around the world usher in tomorrow’s sustainable, green future. There are no silver bullets in the fight against climate change, but together, enabled by world-class technology, we can do the work and make an impact that will create a better world. 

Visit https://altair.com/one-total-twin to learn more about Altair’s industry-leading digital twin technology solutions, and visit https://www.altair.com/sustainability to learn more about Altair’s sustainability commitments and objectives.

Sources:

1 arcindy.com/effect-of-aerodynamic-drag-on-fuel-economy.html