Digital Twin is a frequently used buzzword but many people see it as a future goal more than an immediate objective. This article provides a different perspective – the US Air Force recognizes the immediate practical application of building a digital twin for a 35+ year old platform (a B1-B). The first sentence of the article hits on the key value of digital twins, “…a virtual B-1B that could help the Air Force predict the future…” (bold emphasis is my own).

There’s another lesson to be taken away from this situation about Digital Thread. For whatever reason, the Air Force is missing the digital thread that it needs to maintain B-1Bs. There could be a variety of reasons for this in the defense industry – insufficient data rights, mismanaged data, data integrity issues, problems with data format, data expiration issues, and more. Regardless of the root cause, the case should highlight the future value of today’s data and the need to build and maintain the digital thread when the cost is low. Transforming an enterprise to naturally build high-quality digital threads may seem expensive. I expect the USAF would disagree, in relative terms. I propose that it would have been cheaper to build and maintain the B-1B’s digital data set initially than it will be to recreate it after the fact.

All of this causes me to draw two conclusions:

  1. One, if you’re responsible for managing high-value assets (in DoD or commercial industry), you need a long-term model-based digital twin strategy because it is the key to controlling the tail on your asset’s lifecycle costs.
  2. If you’re responsible for making a product today, your digital product data may have value independent of the product itself, and you should start thinking of that data as its own revenue opportunity. Customers of your product would rather pay you for your digital data than reverse engineer it themselves later.

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Image source: https://www.aflcmc.af.mil/News/Photos/igphoto/2002287197/