The Value of a Digital Twin
To ensure a successful asset database synchronization, careful planning during the design of the asset database is required. The ideal asset management technology will have the ability to reflect infrastructure changes in its database as soon as they are made. Change control methodologies must include scheduled reconciliation, as well as immediate update of configuration databases, in real-time. Timing is critical since many faults in an infrastructure occur immediately after deployment of new or updated technology. The asset database can aid in diagnosing new faults, but only if it accurately represents the current state of the deployed infrastructure.
The ultimate expression of a synchronized database is a digital twin – a virtual representation of the currently deployed infrastructure. Digital twins are implemented by the asset management system and can model any infrastructure if the asset database has the capability to reflect updates of physical and logical resources.
As digital twins rely upon a “closed-loop” approach to asset data management – changes to the physical infrastructure are immediately reflected by the implemented synchronization mechanism in the virtual representation, and changes to the virtual representation are executed in the network based upon the applied planning and implementation processes. The closed loop planning approach for digital twins can yield a virtual environment where upgrades, new deployments, or outages can be simulated, and the outcomes discovered before any changes occur in the network. Based upon the results of those simulations, design and planning can be tweaked to yield better outcomes, which can be verified via a second simulation using the identified changes.
Solving Common Challenges
One of the main challenges a utility faces today is the unsuccessful deployment of new technology in the field, even when that technology had been tested several times prior. This is not surprising though, as “the field” – the physical world – has millions more entities, relationships, and attributes than anyone could possibly model. A digital twin, however, can greatly reduce the chance for errors and identify problems in the design or deployment plans for new technology before they are executed. Finding problems during design is almost always less expensive and disruptive than finding those same problems after deployment.
A unified asset register also enables more efficient operational processes by eliminating the manual steps that are required to link the outputs of multiple asset inventory systems or departmental asset registers stored in Excel workbooks. This benefit is highlighted when planning telecommunications outages that may affect utility operations such as loss of telecommunications to grid management devices like relays, transformers, and voltage regulators.
The ability to relate assets to services running on those assets enables faster and more thorough planning of field activities, through the unified asset register’s ability to recognize relationships and dependencies that may be difficult to identify using a manual process to link multiple automated or manual asset registers.
Post-procedure, after outages or changes are completed, the observed results of the process can be compared with those that were forecast by the asset register, as a feedback loop. Any discrepancies between the forecast and the reality may indicate an opportunity to optimize the relationships and attributes that are recorded in the asset register.
Digital Twin Checklist
Certain features and capabilities are essential for a digital twin to deliver its full potential. FNT’s solution provides the following key features:
- Vendor-agnostic, uniform data model
- Synchronization with your network
- Seamless integration with other relevant OSS/BSS/IT solutions
- Strong visualization, reporting, and analytics capabilities
- Ability to properly manage user access and protect business-critical data
In part three of our asset management blog post series, we’ll discuss how a unified asset register can interface with many other department-specific management systems to reconcile it with current network data and status information. This up-to-date information can be provided to users across the organization to ensure that the utility manages its operations and business based upon a shared understanding of its asset base. Part three is coming soon.