Language barriers between industries

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A new digital twins project looks at language barriers between industries to find some common ground

More than 50 years ago, NASA used digital twin technology to plan and effect the rescue of the three astronauts trapped aboard the crippled Apollo 13 spacecraft. By using simulators and their associated computer systems on the ground, it was the first instance of creating a digital twin to diagnose issues in a site that couldn’t physically be reached – in this case, 210,000 miles away from Earth. Although the process wasn’t called digital twinning at the time, it bears a clear resemblance to this familiar modern technology and was crucial to the success of the Apollo programme in bringing the three astronauts home safely.

But while different sectors have embraced the usefulness of digital twins, it seems there is little consistency between them. At present, the manufacturing and built environment sectors, for example, are developing their concepts of digital twins separately. So, leading voices from the construction sector and beyond have come together to explore the language problem with digital twins that arises from a lack of co-ordination and consistency between sectors.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), together with the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), the Construction Leadership Council and the Centre for Digital Built Britain, as a partner in the Construction Innovation Hub, techUK and supported by the Alan Turing Institute (the UK’s national institute for data science and artificial intelligence), have launched the Apollo Protocol.

The Protocol’s aim is to help different industries to communicate more effectively, reducing silos and improving co-ordination for more collaborative and sustainable outcomes. The Protocol will investigate the language barriers between the digital twins of different sectors and develop recommendations to increase the interoperability between sectors.

Missed opportunities

Rick Hartwig, IET Built Environment Lead, says: “Digital twins offer huge benefits for society but only a co-ordinated approach to the language used will allow those benefits to be realised. There are many steps to improving information management – from the manufacturers and their product information and frameworks to technology companies producing in the digital twin space that need the availability of data to construct models.

“It goes much further than just the manufacturing, built environment and technology industries – policymakers will only meet their sustainability goals if they can provide clarity during procurement for the market to respond effectively, so it will take a whole-system approach.”

Professor Rab Scott, Head of Digital at the AMRC, part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, agrees: “We have built a unique team that brings together the manufacturing, technology and built environment sectors together in a way never seen before. We want to ensure our sectors are being proactive in meeting the challenges ahead of us in terms of climate change and ensuring resilience of products that operate in the built environment.”

Neil Thompson, Co-Chair of the Built Environment Panel of the IET, says: “I’m excited to embark on the next phase of our transformation journey as a sector. Building an internet of twins that integrates seamlessly into our built environment is a challenging but worthy cause. We realise that we cannot do this alone and depend on our digital connections to the manufacturing and technology sectors.”

The project team will bring together experts in the field and intends to publish a white paper in autumn 2022 identifying some of the challenges.

For more information, contact [email protected] with the subject ‘The Apollo Protocol’.

Image credit | Nasa

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