Digital Twins and Threads

Updated: May 25

The concept of a Digital Twin is that:

  • Physical products inherently contain information about themselves, (length, width, mass, etc.), and to capture that information all we need to do is measure them.

  • but technology has reached a point that we now convert that information into virtual instances within virtual environments which include things like gravity, wind resistance, and temperature.

A Digital Twin includes a physical instance (the plane at the gate) and a virtual instance (all the technically knowable information about that plane) captured in a virtual environment which can simulate its behavior. A Digital Thread is the information pathway which keeps the virtual instance up to date with the physical, including not only its original design data, but its flight and maintenance history, fuel levels, software updates, and the number of sodas in the drink cart.


I began teaching this in 2013, leveraging Mike Grieves' book "Virtually Perfect", but unless I related my lecture to Madden football on an Xbox, I was met by blank stares (and sometimes 🥱's). Things dramatically improved when the technology firms and business consultancies produced videos (with marketing budgets!) and were much more interesting than some abstract lecture from me.


Research articles


High-level videos


  • In 2022, Mike delivered a historical perspective on Digital Twins in the following




This is the final few minutes from a talk that I gave as part of the Nelson Earth Day seminar, in April 2021. I conclude by saying that we need Digital Factory Twins, that these Twins might be used to spread vaccine manufacture around the world (e.g., a thousand vaccine factories, one for every local population of 5-10 million people, and that the limit to growth in this concept is in developing a skilled manufacturing workforce.


Finally, I use these videos when doing high-level presentations of PLM, Twins, Threads, and Industry 4.0. I have occasion to speak to high-school students and their parents about digital manufacturing, and these can set the stage.