Eugenio Longo of Tata Consultancy Services explains how digital twins could improve sustainability practices, from analysing energy systems to simulating emission reduction strategies.
We at SiliconRepublic.com have investigated the potential of digital twins – virtual replicas of real-world objects, processes or systems – numerous times in the past. From looking into its capabilities in manufacturing to its use in the telecommunications sector, it’s clear that this technology could have a wide impact on services and industries in the near future.
According to the TCS Digital Twindex 2023, a study conducted by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), experts believe that digital twins will become commonplace across business and society by 2035, with predictions that healthcare, mobility and retail will adopt the technology within the next three years.
But while discussions of the benefits of digital twins in regards to operational efficiency are frequent, some experts have also highlighted the tech’s potential impact on companies’ sustainability practices.
Eugenio Longo, sustainability director at TCS Europe, believes that digital twins will boost sustainability practices in companies due to its provision of “risk-free business experimentation”.
“[Digital twin technology] enables organisations to experiment with and evaluate multiple business strategies at scale to view the results prior to real-world execution and it enhances the comprehension of reality by digitally representing the physical asset and helps in preventing and suggesting actions.”
Digital twin benefits
Longo provides an abundance of examples of how digital twins can benefit companies’ sustainability practices, such as through the monitoring and administration of energy systems. He says that digital twins can be used to track energy usage, spot inefficiencies and maximise efficiency.
“Businesses can create plans to cut energy use and integrate renewable energy sources by modeling various scenarios.”
As well as promoting the integration of renewable energy, Longo also believes the tech can aid companies in their overall reduction of emissions through the modelling and evaluation of the environmental impact of their operations, allowing businesses to cut emissions and develop carbon reduction plans.
Digital twin tracking capabilities can also be used in supply chain management to benefit the retail industry, as it offers “real-time process visibility”.
“Businesses may pinpoint opportunities for development, lower emissions associated with transportation and increase the sustainability of their supply chains overall,” says Longo.
But not all of the benefits relate to energy systems and emission reduction. According to Longo, this tech can also help manage and monitor product life cycles. “Businesses can enhance product longevity, recyclability and sustainability by making well-informed decisions based on data analysis conducted throughout the product’s life cycle.”
Finding the balance
When implementing sustainable practices and initiatives in a company, finding the balance between these practices and operational efficiency is an important consideration.
According to Longo, digital twins can help companies find this balance through the use of simulations and virtual environments.
By using real-time simulations of their operations, he says that organisations can “continuously assess their environmental impact and model different scenarios”, which then allows them to understand how operational changes can affect both efficiency and environmental outcomes.
Emission reduction strategies can then be experimented with in virtual environments, by simulating green technology adoption, supply chain optimisation and energy efficiency improvements. As a result, organisations may be able to find the best strategy for balancing environmental and operational considerations.
Digital twins can also be used to collect and analyse operational and environmental data, says Longo. “Decision-makers can then rely on these data-driven insights to understand the correlation between operational practices and environmental impact, which leads to informed decision-making.”
Challenges of future integration
By the sounds of things, the potential impact of digital twin technology on organisational sustainability could be substantial. Considering that this tech is predicted to see broad adoption in the near future, you can’t help but wonder what could delay its integration.
For Longo, addressing potential challenges with the tech can help ensure its successful integration.
One major challenge that he highlights is the complexity of digital twins, which requires the presence of a skilled workforce to ensure implementation. Longo says that organisations must have skilled professionals with expertise in digital twins, data analytics and simulation technologies.
“As these professionals are very highly demanded, some organisations may perceive this as a potential challenge.”
Longo also says that a cultural shift may be required in some organisations. “Those that are resistant to change, lack awareness or are reluctant to adopt new technologies may perceive this positive change as a potential challenge they need to overcome to fully benefit from the technology.”
Another challenge that he highlights is the issue of data security, privacy and ethics, which he says may pose a barrier due to the fact that digital twin tech often collects and analyses sensitive data, dependent on its application. However, he suggests a simple solution.
“Organisations must simply comply with relevant data protection legislation to maintain trust and transparency and avoid legal issues.”
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