Digital Twins and the Crucial Human Element

As IoT use-cases sweep through the manufacturing and industrial sector, companies are looking for the best way to deploy the power of these technologies that can enable them to maximize the value of their IoT investments. So far, AI, cloud, edge computing, and machine learning have allowed manufacturing companies to accelerate the process of gleaning insights from their IoT data. In that context, the emergence of Digital Twins is bringing about a transformation on the factory floor.

Being digital representations of physical assets and processes, Digital Twins are increasingly being adopted by a variety of industrial sectors. However, they are proving most valuable to manufacturers as they provide the opportunity to automate processes, enhance throughput, and enable safety.

By enabling manufacturers to understand, predict, and optimize performance, Digital Twins help drive improved business outcomes for industrial organizations, while enabling them to establish new revenue streams.

In this white paper, we will examine:

  • What are Digital Twins?
  • The traditional role of Digital Twins
  • The massive opportunity they present to enhance workplace safety

Definition of Digital Twin

Gartner defines Digital Twins as “a digital representation of a real-world entity or system – an encapsulated software object or model that mirrors a unique physical object, process, organization, person or other abstraction. Digital Twin is a software design pattern that represents a physical object with the objective of understanding the asset’s state, responding to changes, improving business operations and adding value”.

As Digital Twins show that they can deliver substantial business value, they are becoming key to all manner of enterprise IoT and digital strategies. According to a recent Gartner survey, 13% of organizations implementing IoT projects already use digital twins, while 62% are either in the process of establishing Digital Twin usage or plan to do so in the near future.

Since Digital Twins can either represent a single functional asset, a system of assets or a fleet of assets, they promise industrial organizations that leverage their power the ability to boost machine throughput, reduce unplanned downtime, as well as enhance the safety of workers.

The Traditional Role of Digital Twins

For industrial organizations; Digital Twins have been a popular mechanism to digitize industrial assets, systems, and processes. Through their ability to represent the physical world digitally, they enable enterprises to better understand, predict, and optimize industrial performance to achieve improved business outcomes. For organizations, they accelerate the process of achieving these outcomes and make their achievement more certain as processes can be tested, assumptions validated, and mistakes made (and corrected) in the Digital World without impacting the physical world.

According to Gartner, by 2021, half of all large industrial companies will use Digital Twins, resulting in a 10% improvement in their effectiveness.

Digital Twins consume historical data to understand the past, analyze current data to view present conditions, and apply machine learning algorithms to predict the future. By knowing the current context and predicting the most likely future state, Digital Twins help in effectively monitoring, simulating, and controlling industrial assets (and processes) while constantly optimizing lifecycles for better outcomes. All Digital Twins need to do their job is an IoT model or a hierarchy of systems and components, a knowledge base of historical data, subject matter expertise and industry best practices, and analytics to predict current and future behavior.

Once Digital Twins are generated, they automatically update themselves through real-time sensor data and relay any changes that occur back to themselves. Depending on the data they are expected to analyze, they will provide ongoing updates that may reflect changes in temperature, gaseous emissions, pressure, moisture, wind, sun exposure, and so on. In the long-term, as sensors constantly analyze equipment data, these changes may correspond to rusting, weakening, cracking, bending, wear and tear, structural damage or even complete breakdown of equipment.

For manufacturers who are deploying Digital Twins, the benefits are many: increased availability and reliability of services, improved production, lower maintenance costs, reduced risks, and faster time-to-value—among others.

For an energy producer with IoT-connected industrial valves, pumps, and generators, this would mean having Digital Twins for each piece of equipment, as well as one for the entire plant – which aggregates and analyzes IoT data end-to-end for improved operations.

While the integration is complicated and requires deep integration, when done successfully, it can become a key source of competitive advantage for manufacturers, especially as physical assets and equipment evolve. Despite the complexity of setting up and integrating Digital Twins, 61% of companies that have implemented digital twins have already integrated at least one pair of digital twins with each other.

A new view

It is evident that the potential impact of Digital Twins across industrial automation is already far-reaching. And although the concept has paved the way for more streamlined automation of industrial processes, they can have a big role to play in improving workplace safety. As workplace safety garners more and more attention, it has become imperative for enterprises, especially those in the manufacturing and industrial sectors where environments are dangerous, to:

  • Communicate with workers in real-time—no matter where they are located or which part of the work cycle it is
  • Understand the challenges and risks workers are exposed to at any given point in time
  • Precisely locate workers in a three-dimensional space and with low latency (less than one second)
  • Be able to gather and analyze data when an event occurs and act on it to safeguard the worker’s health.

With 2.3 million people succumbing to work-related accidents every year globally, there has never been a pressing need to have processes or technologies in place that can bring this number down.

In that quest, there is so much Digital Twins can offer when extended to cover solutions that create and use twins of the most valuable resources of industrial organizations—their people.

Such human extensions of Digital Twins can monitor worker movements, in addition to equipment movements, and suggest improvements to walkways, routes as well as people and material transport. With such insight, industries can drive significant operational efficiencies and also detect serious risks and dangers before they occur. By identifying areas with an unusual concentration of hazards, they can alert maintenance teams to inspect the area and identify structural or mechanical problems and replace faulty valves and pipes – before they break. By looking at the Digital Twins of specific workers or groups of workers, industrial organizations can also get an insight into the pattern of movements and activities and map them back to possible incidents or accidents -even before alarm systems catch on to such issues.

The use cases for Digital Twins in the realm of worker safety are many: from geo-localization to real-time sensor data, real-time analytics to audio/video communication. Let’s look at some of them:

Heat mapping:

Digital Twins can play a crucial role in enabling industrial organizations to carry out heat mapping. They can help identify a concentration of workers or staff and analyze if those movements are normal or unusual. Digital Twins update themselves constantly with time, so they can be a great source to monitor changes in heat, motion, pressure, and other parameters. When correlated with the movements of human resources, Digital twins can come in handy in detecting gas leaks, sudden rise (or decline) in environment temperature, and also help enterprises cater to tech help requests or SOS calls on priority. Since they continuously track the physical environment, they can serve as an excellent source for insight and discovery into the ongoing safety aspects of the industrial area. For instance, the digital twin of an oil rig diagnoses and troubleshoots problems with the structure – without having humans to visit the rig in person.

Interactive condition visualization:

Digital Twins can help industrial organizations substantially reduce emergency response time. Since they can constantly monitor and track safety compliance (and non-compliance) metrics, they can alert shop floor managers about impending risk. Through interactive graphing, they can help enterprises understand the clusters of workers across different locations and effectively plan for immediate emergency response based on the likely scale of the emergency response needed. For instance, in a chemical factory, as soon as Digital Twins detect the presence of toxic chemicals in the air, industrial organizations can check where the maximum number of workers are located and plan for their evacuation – in a controlled manner and in the safest possible way.

Audio/visual tracking for better design:

Digital Twins can also constantly track worker and industrial movement across the industrial area through real-time animation. Using motion-capture technology, industries can digitally capture the movement of workers and equipment and design sites that are safer. With cameras set up across the plant, they can constantly analyze audio and video feeds as well as still photographs to detect incidents well in time. Since such tracking can reflect the sizes and shapes of workers across plants, it can greatly help in minimizing job-related injuries and accidents when molded into the designs and safety plans for future events and sites. Industries can address quality issues in time and make the workplace physically less stressful for workers.

Application of new Digital Twins across industries

Given the many benefits that Digital Twins offer in the realm of industrial safety, enterprises across sectors are looking to embrace the technology to develop new models, minimize worker risk, and create a healthy, risk-free working environment. Here’s a look at how Digital Twins can take industrial safety to a whole new level across every industry:

  • In the construction industry, Digital Twins can help incorporate raw data and digital simulations to enable construction companies to develop blueprints that offer a safe and risk-free working environment. With insights from Digital Twins of both people and equipment, construction companies can directly assess the workflow and structure of the construction site and give engineers insight into impending risks and challenges, so that they can prevent specific life-threatening outcomes from happening. For instance, the Digital Twin of a recently installed cross-bracing system can measure important stress points and provide real-time insight into which places are getting impacted by the weight of the load. Combining this with the activities of workers—in areas that could be at risk in the event of a collapse—could help prevent accidents on site.
  • In the oil and gas sector, Digital Twins can constantly gather data from smart wearables the workers are equipped with and feed those into statistical models to improve industrial safety. The technology can not only monitor human work habits but also identify signs of fatigue or dropping concentration and alertness. Workflows can be set up to alert plant managers of impending accidents. By assessing wearable and sensor data in real-time, Digital Twins can monitor worker location, identify trips and falls, quickly assess proximity to potential hazards and incidents and advise the concerned workers in real-time. They can also monitor exposure to radiation, gaseous emissions, and falling objects and craft immediate mitigation actions.
  • In the mining industry, where workers spend most of their time in dangerous, restricted, narrow, and dark underground spaces, Digital Twins can be extremely useful in ensuring their safety. By automating data collection through process control systems, Digital Twins can study the safety risks inherent in the area and relay them through simulated systems for immersive employee training and insight into safety procedures. Digital information about the workers can help these safety systems track compliance and deviations and help drive tweaks and changes to the design of the programs for future teams. The technology can also help in automating the extraction process, improve machinery productivity, and also help workers learn to use equipment in the most effective manner.

About Guardhat

Guardhat is a worker safety and connected worker solutions company that provides situational awareness solutions using IoT platforms and product ecosystem. The company is on the way to pioneering a technological breakthrough in industrial safety monitoring and productivity assurance. Leveraging their propriety IoT platform KYRA, Guardhat’s solutions help organizations make decisions that increase productivity, improve response times and implement strategies that ultimately save lives. Guardhat has been mentioned by Forbes as a leading AI safety solutions provider for the manufacturing industry.

In February 2019, Guardhat collaborated with IBM to integrate its platform with IBM’s Maximo Worker Insights solution to provide near real-time situational awareness using smart personal protection equipment.

Guardhat has offices in Detroit and Chicago and offers solutions across North America, South America, EMEA, APAC, and Russia/EU. Their current offerings include:

  • Smart wearable solutions
  • Safety gear and safety apps
  • Geo-localization services
  • KYRA IoT platform
  • Real-time communication services
  • Advanced analytics solutions


As a growing number of people succumb to workplace injuries, industrial safety has become a vital element on the agenda of the leadership across industries. Given the risks workers are exposed to in mines, construction sites, manufacturing shop floor, and oil rigs, ensuring their safety must take precedence over everything else. Although businesses have been using the concept of Digital Twins to automate industrial processes, the time has come for them to embrace the technology to improve industrial safety by extending their applications to the human capital.

Such Digital Twins, through continuous assimilation and analysis of historical and current data, can enable industrial organizations to assess looming risks and vulnerabilities while giving enterprises several opportunities to take action to safeguard worker health. From heat mapping to interactive graphing, and audio/visual communication, Digital Twins can be a great asset to industries to help reduce, limit or eliminate the chances (and impact) of hazards and ensure the long-term safety of workers, assets, and the environment.


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