Game development technology for the digital twin
Digital twin simulations that provide end users with a virtual copy of plant assets and production systems, although not yet ubiquitous in the industry, have been used for some time for tasks such as production monitoring. However, new contributions from the field of video game development can both extend the basic functionality of digital twins and extend their use of operations management to other departments such as sales and marketing.
According to Brad Hart, chief technology officer at Perforce Software, video game engines such as Unreal, which gave its name to the popular first-person shooter “Unreal” franchise, offer sophisticated viewing capabilities and complex physics engines that make it the perfect tool for improving digital twin simulations. Today’s industrial digital twin software is, for the most part, highly technical and may require engineering training to be fully understood. By improving the accessibility, quality, and realism of visualizations, game engines like Unreal could help unlock new applications for digital twin technology.
For example, automaker Audi fed physical data from its digital twin production pipeline into the Unreal engine to simulate the design of new vehicles. Not only can the performance of these vehicles be tested in a virtual environment, their designs can more easily be presented to business leaders in a very realistic and interactive way long before a single unit is actually produced. Likewise, aerospace companies that build private jets can share design blueprints with their customers much more efficiently through the use of digital twin simulation.
“Think about the 3D models produced by digital twins in the past. They’re always aimed at engineers, not the sales team, marketers or consumers, ”says Hart. “These people want to be as close as possible to the end product. They want to be able to touch it before it is physically built. These more sophisticated visualizations open up the utility of the digital twin to more people. “
In addition, the use of powerful game engines can facilitate the achievement of rapid prototyping, digital planning and virtual commissioning of factories and equipment. Tests that previously involved complex calculations, even using a digital twin, can be iterated faster through the use of more robust simulation.
Still, those working in the digital twin tech industry don’t have to worry about game developers stealing their jobs. While the automotive, aviation, and several other manufacturing sectors are looking for game developers to help them create more realistic industrial simulations, the tasks they perform complement rather than replace those performed by others.
“Without a doubt, some of the bigger manufacturing industries are bringing in game developers on their staff to help them out. It really opens up opportunities for game developers to get into new industries,” Hart said. “But this does not exclude what the people who are already working on digital twins are doing, we are only increasing the skills that already exist within these organizations.