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Digital twins could considerably improve logistics ops

A digital twin is a unique, virtual representation of a physical thing that monitors and simulates both the physical state and behavior of the thing.

The concept and rise of digital twins can create value in logistics, according to a new DHL trend report. The technology, which involves using digital models to better understand and manage physical assets is already well established in some industries and has the potential to significantly change logistics operations, the company announced on June 27, the inaugural Internet of Things (IoT) Day at DHL’s Innovation Center in Germany.

A digital twin is a unique, virtual representation of a physical thing that monitors and simulates both the physical state and behavior of the thing. The digital copy is continually connected to the physical object(s) and updates itself to reflect real-world changes. Applied to products, machines and even entire business ecosystems, digital twins can reveal insights from the past, optimize the present and even predict future performance.

“The market for digital twins is expected to grow more than 38% each year, passing the $26 billion mark by 2025,” said Matthias Heutger, senior vice president and global head of innovation & commercial development at DHL. “Digital twins offer unparalleled capabilities to track, monitor, and diagnose assets. They will change traditional supply chains, with a range of options to facilitate data-driven decision making and collaboration, streamlined business processes, and new business models. We are keen to work with our customers and partners to jointly explore applications in our industry.”

Logistics applications of digital twins

In logistics, digital twins could be used in a variety of applications along the entire value chain, including the management of container fleets, monitoring of shipments or the design of logistics systems. IoT sensors on individual containers for example, show their location and monitor for damage or contamination. This data flows into a digital twin of the container network, which uses machine learning to ensure that containers are being deployed as efficiently as possible. Digital twins can be applied not only for individual assets but entire networks and ecosystems such as warehouses, combining a 3D model of a facility with inventory and operational data. The system would be able to provide an overview of the state of machines and product availability and could make predictions and autonomous decisions about stock or deliveries. The same principle applies to major logistics hubs or global logistics networks.

“Powered by IoT, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and advanced visualization tools, digital twins are becoming a more attractive and accessible option for companies,” said Markus Kückelhaus, vice president of innovation and trend research for DHL Customer Solutions & Innovation. However, bringing these and other relevant technologies together into a full digital twin implementation is a complex and challenging task. Close collaboration between all partners along the value chain is therefore essential to fully capture the potential.”

In the trend report, DHL examines the challenges to implementation, such as cybersecurity concerns, but stresses that business cases for implementing digital things are becoming more compelling. As related technologies get to be more dependable and affordable, businesses in a number of industries will find digital twins invaluable in managing complex systems of assets in real time and increasing efficiency in their processes. The report concludes by considering the investments and changes necessary for the successful implementation of digital twins in logistics.

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