The integration of digital and physical

A digital twin is a virtual model of a physical system. Ranging from a basic spreadsheet to a fully automated system which allows machine to machine communication. A digital twin can improve understanding, support decision making or ultimately, change the way a water company operates its assets.

Twins can be built up to transition from relatively simple systems which demonstrate the current operations to more advanced systems which streamline decision making by predicting the need for intervention and issuing warnings. The most advanced digital twins can expand this decision support to the point of machine to machine communication – as achieved by our Aquasuite® platform. Aquasuite® is a digital technology that monitors, analyses, visualises and controls the performance of water and wastewater infrastructure through predictive analytics and machine learning.

The greying workforce

The Netherlands is enjoying a period of peak employment. The competition for the new generation of workers is fierce, with traditional companies such as water utilities competing for talent with dynamic start-ups. As the current generation of asset operators moves towards retirement, companies risk losing knowledge accumulated through years of experience before it can be passed on.

The use of monitors and sensors to capture operating data and create a digital twin allows this experience and knowledge base to be built up independently of the operators, removing the risk of that knowledge being lost as employees move on or retire.

Pressure of population

Alongside the workforce, the environment water companies operate in is also changing. As the population continues to grow, so too the pressure on existing water assets. The added pressure on the built environment means that expansion of an asset is often not feasible, leaving improving efficiency of current assets as the only viable option to meet increased demand. Digital twins can play an important role here.

As awareness of climate change continues to grow there is also an increased social expectation that water companies will better manage their resources. In the UK this has resulted in a major push to cut non-revenue water loss. In the Netherlands legislation is continually being improved and tightened, for example with the recent focus on the need to remove pharmaceutical residues from drinking water a case in point. As legislative requirements grow, companies must improve their grip, and the maintenance of that grip, on their assets.

Risk free experimentation

As Royal HaskoningDHV we are renowned for our capabilities to assist our customers, such as utilities and water authorities, in generating maximum value from their capital-intensive asset systems. The traditional way was to gather data and have these analysed by highly experienced engineers. Through applying digital twin technology, we are bringing this to the next level, where analytics are performed continuously in real time, thus providing an ever more detailed and robust understanding and control of a company’s assets.In this way, a digital twin can also provide a risk-free arena for experimentation. The ability to virtually test an unlimited number of alternative operating strategies for example helps overall understanding of the operation and allows companies to efficiently identify the best operating strategy – improving efficiency and innovation.

Time to double up

The term digital twin is increasingly becoming part of our lexicon but time is of the essence given the real world issues faced by water companies.

Want to know more about digital twins for water utilities? Get in touch with Aris Witteborg