Digital Twin Consortium Proposes Interoperability Framework

Article By : Stefani Munoz

Multiple industries could profit from more sophisticated digital twins. The Consortium proposed a pathway toward interoperability among disparate design systems.

The Digital Twin Consortium announced a Digital Twin System Interoperability Framework, which the consortium is offering as a pathway for disparate digital environments to interoperate at scale.

Digital twins are becoming crucial for companies in the aerospace, automotive and industrial industries, but if the most sophisticated digital twins are to be true “twins” they must be able to accurately represent the interplay of mechanical and electronic subsystems, which means combining data from different modeling systems.

But is it possible for digital twins to share and process data between disparate systems? Doug Migliori, Global Field CTO at CloudBlue, told EE Times this is where the concept of interoperability gets complex.

“I’ve seen discussions where things have started out with a common goal. But then they start to get into the details, and that’s where industry consortiums start to limit the ability of their design to be universal,” Migliori said. “The biggest challenge is everybody comes with a knowledge base of use cases within their own domain. The challenge is always to be able to bring together a lot of different knowledge sets from across different domains and use cases and make them universal, just like internet standards are. To do that, you have to go to a higher level of abstraction than most want to go because it’s not solving this specific problem, it’s more conceptual.”

In this case, a standard, universal framework is key and could better facilitate sharing data between dissimilar systems. The Digital Twin Consortium (DTC) claims its interoperability framework can bridge this gap.

The consortium’s interoperability framework is based on seven key concepts: system-centric design, model-based approach, holistic information flow, state-based interactions, federated repositories, actionable information and scalable mechanisms. CEO Anto Budiardjo told EE Times the purpose of these concepts is to provide a foundation to help facilitate interactions between complex system of systems and allow engineers to abstract and dismantle distributed architectures into a common interoperability mechanism.

“Why is it so hard to integrate systems? That’s the whole point of abstraction. Because if you abstract things high enough, the domain specific issues disappear,” Budiardjo said. “When you’re trying to integrate two or more systems, you’re typically integrating systems from different domains that have different technologies, different business rules, different regulations even. To actually make them interoperate using those protocols and mechanisms is just impossible.”

This is where the adoption of a common model is crucial. If companies can agree on a universal model for a physical asset, for example, digital twin interoperability becomes seamless. But as Budiardjo noted, it’s almost impossible to ask these companies to adopt specific standards, best practices or even a domain.

To address this challenge, the next step becomes defining concepts that are easily adoptable across all domains. Migliori and Budiardjo argue that to realize the full potential of digital twin interoperability, industries must properly align their data models, ontology concepts and terminology. For DTC, this begins with defining the concept of a system.

“Interoperability requires adoption of a common model. The concept that’s being modeled has to be agreed on,” Migliori said. “It’s our belief that the only concept that really is universal is the idea of a system. Getting to the point where we can all agree on the word system whenever you’re describing things, that will lead to a common model of one single concept that can then be universal. That to us was key. Defining system as a concept isn’t something that’s always front and center when it comes to the interoperability discussion.”

Adding to that, Budiardjo said the consortium’s interoperability framework is only the beginning. DTC has teamed up with the Industry IoT Consortium to further define the concept of a system.

“We’re going to be tackling the other fundamental concept which is system of systems. Because when you start to think about making systems interoperable, what does that mean? One of the key concepts of digital twins is system of systems because that sort of is what a digital twin is: a system of systems,” Budiardjo said. “We can use the characteristics that we defined in the initial framework to make sure however we come up with a view of what systems of system is that it matches with all the characteristics we’ve defined in the framework.”

Transforming products into interoperable system-of-systems (Source: Digital Twin Consortium) (Click on the image for a larger view.)

As of today, DTC has around 270 members; some of which are from companies that dabble in the cloud, such as Microsoft and Dell. Some of the larger EDA companies, however, don’t currently have anyone involved on DTC’s member board, including Siemens, Cadence and Synopsis.

EE Times asked DTC why this might be, and Budiardjo noted that while digital twin technology is largely collaborative, some companies are interested instead on figuring out how to make their systems work, rather than how systems operate with each other.

Cadence and Synopsys were not available to comment at this time.

Siemens acknowledged the importance of digital twin interoperability and the industry consortiums that are advancing their own initiatives. A Siemens spokesman said the company will monitor these initiatives and continue to support efforts that increase interoperability and openness for digital twin technologies.

This article was originally published on EE Times.

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