What’s a Human Digital Twin

What’s a Human Digital Twin

Welcome to “Ask Deb from QA,” an advice column from MxD.

Deb from QA — with decades of experience on the factory floor — will answer your questions to demystify and explain the digital manufacturing industry.

Please submit your questions to debfromqa@mxdusa.org

What’s a Human Digital Twin?

Human digital twin? Make mine a George Clooney!

OK, I know you’re here for facts, not fantasy. So let’s jump to the answer.

To refresh everyone’s memory, a digital twin (as I described in my earlier column) is a virtual model of something in the real world. 

A digital twin exchanges data with the sensor-equipped physical object or process it mirrors. Digital twins let us test software before installing it or program a control system before actually putting it into the factory. 

The human digital twin  takes that concept from objects to people.

Though the boss would love it, the twin isn’t actually human. We are talking virtual here. But these human digital twins could be used in a bunch of ways in our factories of the future. 

For instance, if my job on the line requires me to do the same arm movement 1,000 times a day, five days a week, am I gonna get buff biceps or a repetitive-motion injury? With the data it was getting from me as I did those 1,000 movements, my digital twin could figure that out — and hopefully keep me from needing physical therapy. 

Or, say the smart factory has to find the quickest way to move a pallet across the floor. The digital twin will know how fast I walk (pretty slow, to be honest) and the path I would probably take if I was moving the pallet. In my case, a forklift is probably the better option. And the beauty of this is that no human would have to stop what they were doing to wonder: “Deb or forklift?” The digital twin would just tell the forklift to roll.

Human digital twins haven’t made it into many factories yet. As you all know, the cost of this kind of technology can often require twin bank accounts!

But we are starting to see “human digital twin” show up on those Industry 4.0 trend lists. So we need to stay current. Plus, over time, as the cost of all this technology (and the required privacy safeguards and cybersecurity tools) comes down, more small manufacturers may hop on the bandwagon.

Right now, some folks are experimenting with this type of technology, including the NFL, which is partnering with Amazon Web Services on what they are calling the Digital Athlete. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning, their goal is to come up with a way for a virtual player to predict and possibly prevent injuries for the human players — just like twins can do in the factory. 

Doctors, too, are exploring the technology as they work on ways to better personalize our medical care, according to EY

To be sure, no one’s saying that my twin could figure out what to do if half of the second shift calls in sick. There are jobs that only the human Deb can do.  

But if human digital twins deliver on the promise of saving time and protecting us workers from injury, count me as a fan — just so long as mine won’t eat half of my lunch! 

Check out the last Ask Deb here:
Defend Your Process Manufacturing

Deb from QA wants to hear your questions. Send ’em to debfromqa@mxdusa.org and she’ll answer as soon as she’s done with her dinner.