Realizing the value of digital twins in the aerospace industry

The “Digital Twin: Reference Model, Realizations & Recommendations” implementation paper pushes for industry adoption of this technology advancement. The paper was released by AIAA in collaboration with the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), and the Americas Regional Steering Committee of the International Association for the Engineering Modelling, Analysis and Simulation Community (NAFEMS).

The fourth industrial revolution – or digital transformation – has arrived. Digital transformation is driving model-based technological advances such as digital engineering, digital twins, and digital thread, which are expected to accelerate the pace of R&D to deployment of advanced systems significantly. Such innovation can lower the overall total lifecycle cost and ultimately improve customer experiences. Many industries are developing and using digital twins for a wide number of applications.

The aerospace industry is continuing to consider its use of digital twins, with the expectation that it will greatly accelerate the pace from research to the deployment of advanced systems and enable the industry to realize benefits in the global marketplace. Even with this progress, the aerospace industry needs to expedite its adoption and realization of digital twins.

IN THEIR WORDS: AIAA hosted a session during the 2023 AIAA SciTech Forum in January to discuss digital twin and digital thread integration. Below are edited highlights from some of the implementation paper’s co-authors. The paper is available for download on the AIAA website.

Mathew (Mat) French

Staff Systems Engineer, Northrop Grumman; AIAA Associate Fellow

This paper provides a reference model describing a uniform set of concepts which all Digital Twins have in common, but to varying degrees and through varied implementations. Individual concrete example Digital Twins are of great interest and summarized in this implementation paper, but having a common underlying ontological framework allows understanding individual examples through a unifying lens. Defining the meaning of Digital Twin in a single sentence has real value and is more complete through the descriptive reference model contained in this paper. The descriptive reference model progresses Digital Twin implementation to support the visualization of multi-domain battle operations, dynamically encompassing the complexities of the modern battlefield affecting rate of change in terms of information access and decisions.

John F. Matlik

Chief of Capability – Digital Engineering, Rolls-Royce Defense; AIAA Associate Fellow

Too often, the benefits of Digital Twins and Digital Transformation more broadly get lost in the hype and the buzz words that surround them. In this implementation paper, we have highlighted tangible, real-world examples of aerospace Digital Twin use cases and discussed how a generic reference model supports the various use case applications showing there are commonalities in both opportunities and challenges. This highlights that broader benefit realization can be enabled and accelerated through the creation of new, trusted multi-domain entities that can serve the function of ‘consistency managers’ across the aerospace enterprise. To this end and as part of this paper, the aerospace industry advocates for: 1) the creation of appropriate Aerospace Digital Transformation Consortium/Consortia (ADTC) to address this identified need, and 2) Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) as an initial pathfinder focus area to use as an ADTC’s inaugural effort. Now is the time to accelerate the aerospace industry benefits from this transformative capability … together.

Olivia J. Pinon Fischer

Senior Research Engineer and Division Chief – Digital Engineering Division, Aerospace Systems Design Laboratory, School of Aerospace Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology; AIAA Associate Fellow

Today, many individual organizations are realizing targeted benefits from using digital twins and digital engineering capabilities within their businesses. We believe that we can realize value from Digital Twins more extensively by fostering collaboration and consistency management across the broader enterprise. To that end, we recognized that it was essential for the aerospace industry to have a generic reference model to describe how digital twins integrate with the broader digital enterprise and to inform broader benefit realizations from digital twins in a consistent and scalable way.

This implementation paper is the result of a truly amazing and enriching cross-organization collaboration. We do hope that you find it informative, and we are excited to continue to work together across industry, government, and academia to accelerate the understanding, adoption, and realization of Digital Twins and their benefits across the aerospace industry.

William D. Schindel

Chair, INCOSE MBSE Patterns Working Group; President, ICTT System Sciences

In complex, rapidly-changing environments, a shared reference model is an essential resource for successful collaboration, alignment, analysis, planning, implementation, integration, and evolution. The INCOSE MBSE Patterns Working Group shares the base Innovation Ecosystem Pattern as a neutral, configurable reference model for use in specialized forms across diverse domains. It is focused on representing how teams, programs, enterprises, supply chains, consortia, and societies perform group learning and adaptation in pursuit of effective innovation.

Understanding a Digital Twin especially means understanding the larger ecosystem’s uses of and interactions with it, at multiple levels and across life cycles. A hallmark of this understanding is the explicit representation of the critical role of consistency management. Collaborating with the AIAA Digital Twin study team, a diverse set of industry case study submitters, and a wide range of aerospace industry reviewers, we are excited about the power of the resulting AIAA Digital Twin Reference Model.

Realizing the value of digital twins in the aerospace industry