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DIGITAL TWINS: MAKING DIFFERENCE IN AEROSPACE INDUSTRY

Fig. A digital twin plane

Source: http://www.fastwayengineering.com/digital-twin/

The world has progressed remarkably in a past few decades in technology and
computation. Digitalization has engulfed everything from nanostructures to
immense aircraft structures. Human thirst for achieving the extremities of aviation
and endeavor for unleashing the mysteries of space has brought ample research in
the field of virtual tools like the digital twin.

WHAT EXACTLY IS A DIGITAL TWIN?

Digital twin is the virtual representation of real life working physical system in
computerized systems or simply, the replica of physical products. In digital twin
technology, the physical object in physical space can be modelled into a 3D model
in virtual space with exactly the same shape, configuration, gesture, status and
motion. The sensors are attached on the physical object and provide digital
information to certain softwares or apps generated with PREDIX to create a twin
which resembles the real object in every aspect, from microscopic to macroscopic.
HOW IT STARTED?

This concept was formerly coined by DARPA and manifested as PLM(Product


Life-cycle Maintenance) tool by Dr. Grieves of University of Michigan. The
concept has been proposed for NASAs next generation fighter aircrafts and
spacecrafts. In 2013, US Air Force Airframe Digital Twin Spiral 1 program was
launched for improving individual aircraft tracking.

THE PARADIGM SHIFT IN AVIATION

Source: https://www.nasa.gov/aero/nasa-aero-teams-study-wild-ideas.html

How do aircraft engine parts perform over time, how often engines and airframe
need to be serviced, which parts require inspection and maintenance, how
prognostics control can be achieved, etc are the major concerns of aerospace
industry, which can be addressed by digital twin technology. The virtual twins
reflect exact operating condition of an aircraft such as performance, behavior and
failure modes. It also allows engineers to understand the history or past operation
cycle, simulate the behavior of different systems and make predictions for the
future.
Fig. Real aircraft monitored by its digital twin

Source: https://community.plm.automation.siemens.com

Before the introduction of digital twins in aviation, different aspects of physics had
different models like CFD for fluid dynamics, SDM for structural dynamics, SAM
for stress analysis, FCM for fatigue cracking, etc. All these models are integrated
into a single CFD digital twin, which provides better management of an aircraft
throughout its lifetime.

For monitoring, different aircraft and engine manufacturing companies create


digital twin of each engine or aircrafts they build.

Fig. Representation of physical and digital jet engine by General Electric

Source: http://www.geglobalresearch.com/impact/physical-digital-the-new-power-couple
In a nutshell, digital twins help to merge real flight features and conditions with its
virtual clone. Digital twins are revolutionizing the aerospace industry, but theres
still a long way to go.

Written by: Dinesh Pant

Department of Mechanical Engineering

IOE, Pulchowk Campus