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Digital Twin or Digital Relative - what are we aiming at?

In the recent weeks I have seen numerous presentations about digital and fully 3-D animated renderings, both from professional side and from freelancers and students. Some astounding and unbelievable close to nature, some others not. At PI Apparel NYC , you could see the whole development and production flow of animated clothing for animated movies. And we had intense discussions about how detailed these clothes should actually be, how much the designer would enhance digitally dresses for example - to make them more boxy, more paper touch, more fluffy, more dramatic and so on.

Later on that week there was a close to real, close to perfect work from vfxexpress ( ) on LinkedIn which took a lot of attraction and opened the forum for a discussion about how close virtual design should actually be and if we would like to still determine the difference of real or simulated pictures and apparel shootings. Now I don’t want to dive deeper into this topic again, but it reminded me to a master class that I attended in 2014 about the digital twin concept of Industry 4.0.

I remember very well the explanations and theories about the creation of a complete digital copy of the physical factory in order to manage two factories. A concept, that intrigued me and kept me thinking since then. In 2015, I had the chance to physically test and embrace the advantages and limits of this concept by starting a Smart Factory project in Izmir/Turkey. The starting point was to really identify every thing, every process, every person in real life and think about its digital copy. So, before even having clear use cases for each digital twin we started this journey of digitalization by understanding the physical factory first. Some digital copies were already existing, some others not.

And like the pictures we see nowadays everywhere, some copies were great and very detailed, some others were very basic, quite often very incomplete. And some digital copies were just not there because of technology not being ready. For example, a lot of process data were easy to access and to determine because of ERP and MES systems. Other information like machine data were not available at all. Machines in the apparel industry are very basic compared to automotive or electronics industries. Quite often you cannot get access to the PLCs and therefore we had to build sensors and the whole infrastructure to monitor our machines from ground zero.

The most surprising part for me at that time was the fact that we had intense data of our workforce, which, with all respect to data privacy and data protection and separation, we could use in various projects. The interesting and not planned part of this journey came later. The more complete the digital copy of the physical factory became, the more ideas to make use of this information appeared as well. Suddenly, a lot of people had access to information and trends which were invisible before. A lot of departments could make joint use of digital information simply because for the first time they were visible and available for them. So, with more and more information at place, more and more use cases to justify the cost of this journey popped up as well. I should say that this is not the normal way of doing projects.

Normally you have an idea first, you make basic or intense calculations and then you start with your activities. You normally don’t get the money from the finance colleagues to start something which is uncertain. In this case, diving into the digital world, I guess we had to give much more space for experimentation and trials. We had to work with the status quo, that we could get - not forgetting, that a perfect digital copy was nicer than an imperfect one. (By the way – you see the same approach at Volkswagen nowadays, keeping the current system running while at the same time investing heavily in topics that are completely new and far from clear if and how they work)

5 years later we made impressive steps towards creating and managing a Smart Factory, but for sure this journey is far from over.

To summarize that, I am sure that we will see unfinished and imperfect versions of digital apparel copies in the coming months and years. At the same time, I am sure that we will see astounding outcomes from freelancers and startups who have the freedom and the courage to test something you, who test the status quo because of their fearless mindset and the openness to fail. So, a relative might not be as close as a twin, but at least it is part of the family .

Enjoy the week…


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