A Digital Twin is not a program, an equipment database, or a CAD package. It is a virtual model of a physical system providing insights through the project lifecycle. The goals of a Digital Twin can be summarized as, providing early warning, making continuous prediction, and dynamic optimization, with a strong focus on achieving measurable results.

When applying Digital Twin technology to fluid piping systems, the primary focus is to minimize unplanned outages, along with methods to reduce capital, operating, and maintenance costs, during the entire project lifecycle. During my working career disruptive technologies have resulted in major changes to the way these systems are designed, built, operated and maintained. We will look at how these changes have made it easier for the organizations that have adopted them.

The Digital Twin has become the latest next generation of technology by delivering insights throughout the project lifecycle. It provides cognitive understanding to everyone involved with the means to gain information, store it, and provides understanding into system operations. A series of examples are presented within this study showing how Digital Twins are used in all stages of the project lifecycle.

The Current State of Our Industrial Segment

Piping systems are an integral part of industrial, commercial, and municipal facilities making the products and providing the services the world has come to rely on. These systems are expensive to design, build, operate, & maintain and unplanned outages have a major financial impact on their profitability.

These systems have extremely long lives, often spanning multiple decades. During the facilities lifecycle, the systems are in a constant state of change. These changes can be in the form of simple operational parameters, changes in capacity, markets, process, and products, even changes due to equipment wear and tear. There are financial changes for the cost of raw materials, electrical power, labor, and support services. There are changes in state and federal regulations, safety changes, along with incorporating new technology. Each of these changes have far reaching consequences affecting the profitability of the facility. Digital Twin technology can provide an organization with early warning insight of potential changes instead of having to deal with them as unforeseen problems.

During the facilities lifecycle there are well-defined phases in project management. The phases are grouped into designing, building, operating, and maintaining the projects. There are many tasks performed by a variety of financial and technical disciplines, each requiring a free exchange of ideas to ensure the project’s success. For example, during the preliminary design many details are not available requiring the use of assumptions when specifying equipment with long purchasing cycles. The assumptions made during the equipment specification process will have major impacts on the operation and maintenance for the life of the system. Often equipment is oversized to take into account the design uncertainties. With Digital Twin technology everyone shares the same design picture, allowing everyone to make decisions using current and up to date information.

When the facility is turned over to operations, the systems are used to make a product or provide a service. Piping systems are designed with enough resiliency to minimize disruption, but the longer a problem with a specific item of equipment goes unnoticed, the greater the potential for an unplanned outage. Preventive maintenance programs are established for selected items of plant equipment. The intervals between maintenance checks are based on the manufacturer’s recommendations and plant experiences. Since the schedule is based on an average time in operation some checks will be performed earlier than needed, and some checks will be made later than needed. Most preventative maintenance is performed during scheduled outages resulting in high workloads for the maintenance department. Using Digital Twin Technology, the maintenance department can see how a specific item of equipment is running and determine when the equipment should be checked.

Unplanned or forced outages have a major financial impact on the profitability of the facility. During a forced outage, the expenses continue but no products are being produced. They result in loss of product, slowed production, off-quality product losses, extra maintenance repair cost, and customer satisfaction concerns. Digital Twin technology provides a clear picture of how a system is working. With real time inputs from plant instrumentation the Digital Twin can determine if the plant is operating correctly or if problems are building that could result in a forced outage.

Piping systems are expensive to operate and maintain. Without a clear understanding of the costs, it is difficult to make educated decisions. Most of the operating cost for piping systems is the electrical power needed for pump operations. Often the cost of electrical power is not assigned to specific equipment, instead it is thought of as a cost of doing business and allocated to the various users. Without knowing the power cost for a specific item, there is no way to determine how to reduce costs and improved profitability. The Digital Twin performs an energy balance showing how much energy is consumed by the pump elements, and how much energy is used by the process and control elements. Using the cost of power, and input information from plant operating data the Digital Twin can provide a Profit and Loss Statement for the total piping system or costs for each item of equipment in the system.

Maintenance cost can be determined using maintenance management software to track the work performed. Unless there is a method to compare the maintenance cost for a specific item of equipment to similar equipment it is hard to improve on maintenance costs. Using plant operating data and the Digital Twin, the current health of the system, along with each item of equipment can be determined. When the system is not operating as designed a message is delivered and corrective action can be started.

There are many tasks required by financial and technical disciplines to design, build, operate and maintain piping systems. Often these groups operate in discipline silos looking at a problem only through their group’s lens. For example, if a facility is interested in reducing their electrical power consumption there must be a free exchange of ideas between all groups involved. They must make their decisions based on measurable financial outcomes with the objective of reducing unscheduled outages. They also need to look at how reducing operating cost will impact the maintenance and capital costs.

Current State of Disruptive Technology

Since 1982 when Time Magazine made the Personal Computer the machine of the year, multiple disruptive technologies have changed the way people work. These new technologies have improved the way business is done of the better. These changes have been driven by:

· Exponential technology: The performance of technology is increasing while the cost is decreasing. Examples include computers, software, networks, internet, variable speed drives

· Digital Transformation: Processes are performed using software accessing stored data. As new information is entered into the application the information is available for other tasks.

· Data Storage: The data needed by the applications is placed on internal networks, VPNs and the Cloud. Now others can gain access resulting in greater collaboration.

· The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0: This is resulting in an explosion of low-cost sensors with the ability to store operating information that can be used for further improvements.

The industrial market is ready for these technology improvements, and with the advent of Digital Twin technology we are in store for an even greater pace of continual process improvements.

The Digital Twin

This Executive summary provides an overview of how the Digital Twin is used in industries with fluid piping systems. They will change the way we look at piping systems by implementing this new technology in the facilities and their systems.

A Digital Twin is more than a software program, a CAD drawing, or an equipment database. It is a computer simulation of a physical system consisting of; a mathematical model describing the process, data on installed equipment, operating data from installed physical sensors, and methods to analyze the resulting data to gain system insights.

The Digital Twin is based on a data centered model in which the various applications can interact using API’s. For example, once the pipe routing has been completed in the CAD application, the data is supplied to the Digital Twin allowing other applications to use this new information. This new information can be accessed by the Piping Simulation application to add to the hydraulic model with update pipe lengths and fitting count.

The goals of a Digital Twin can be summarized as, providing early warning, continuous prediction, and dynamic optimization, with a strong focus on achieving measurable results. Here are a few examples of how the Digital Twin can provide useful system insights.

  • Autonomous performance of surveillance testing to identify equipment that is not functioning within equipment parameters.
  • Perform maintenance predictions for equipment based on its actual operations instead of a standardized maintenance schedule.
  • Dynamic optimization of a system based on its current plant operation conditions as opposed to a single design assumption.

Digital Twins can utilize the operational data from the physical system to create “digital” sensors. Digital sensors are calculated using the underlying math and science of the Digital Twin to provide greater insight on the operation of the physical system. The digital sensors can point out problems that can impact the continued system operation.

A Digital Twin provides a living and learning model with the ability of human input, physical and digital sensors, fleet learning, and pattern recognition. Since the Digital Twin is providing value in all parts of the operation it can be updated faster for all users.

The availability of a Digital Twin provides:

  1. Strategic New Awareness – By providing exponential vs. linear improvements. All applications are using a common dataset, allowing for the creation of new decision-making tools with greater accuracy. The new tools and information can be incorporated into other new tools.
  2. Believable to Me Results – The Digital Twin provides information to each group so they can understand the system in their context, as well as knowing the value offered to the other groups. Thus, becoming the single source of truth.
  3. Repeatable Innovation – The outcome of the application tools developed in the Digital Twin can be used throughout the facility.
  4. Continually increase insight focused on business outcomes. The Digital Twin can create a P&L statement reflecting the entire system or down to a single item of equipment.

Within this document, specific examples show how Digital Twins are used in every stage of the project lifecycle. With it the financial and technical groups can work together to minimize unplanned outages while reducing capital, operating, and maintenance costs.


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