Will Digital Twins Make Physical Prototyping Obsolete?

The long-expected end of the crash test dummy’s career may become a reality as digital twins proliferate.

Rob Spiegel

January 12, 2023

4 Min Read
Image courtesy of Getty Images

With digital twin technology spreading across most industries, the physical prototype may become less ubiquitous in product design and development. A survey conducted by Altair has confirmed a surge in the worldwide adoption of digital twins. Altair surveyed more than 2,000 professionals to gauge their use of this technology. The report on the survey findings assessed how organizations – across multiple industries – utilize digital twin technology. The survey also looked at the benefits derived from digital twins.

Benefits from digital twins included increased accuracy in product development and accelerated time to market. It also revealed a surprising prediction: Two in three respondents (67%) expect digital twin solutions to make the need for physical prototypes obsolete within the next six years. Bye, bye crash test dummies.

Respondents also reported a strong connection between digital twins and the drive for sustainability. A full 85% of respondents are currently using or plan to use digital twin technology to reach their overall sustainability goals.

The Benefits of Digital Twins

One major benefit of digital twins is the ability to solve product issues before a physical prototype is produced. “A lot of respondents have been able to optimize individual processes. In a car, they simulated the mechanical system,” Brett Chouinard chief product and strategy officer at Altair told Design News. “Digital twins are used more and more to understand how the product functions from design to end user.”

Related:Digital Twins Reinvent Innovation in Manufacturing

The increase in computing power has accelerated the use of digital twins. “Cloud and high-performance computing have increased the velocity in simulation. When you’re simulating a bracket, the mesh part used to take hours, and then the structure took another several hours,” said Chouinard. More and more cloud computing lets you simulate the same bracket in a few seconds or minutes.”

The digital twin technology examines products with far more detail than a CAD drawing.  “The CAD doesn’t understand how the physical product changes over time. The digital twin is living and breathing,” said Chouinard. “Users can discover more design errors in the digital twin, so they don’t have to have as many physical prototypes. The functional performance and quality of the product can be improved before you create a physical version.”

Rapid Adoption Rates

The survey reveals the overall use of digital twins. According to the survey, businesses are adopting digital twin technology at unprecedented speeds:

  • Nearly three in four (69%) organizations are already leveraging digital twins.

  • 71% of those businesses began investing in the technology in just the past year.

  • Of those organizations not using digital twins, nearly half expect their company to adopt the technology within three years.

The need for deeper digital twin understanding is widespread: More than half of respondents stated they have limited knowledge about the technology or find it confusing. Many users (more than one-third) signaled they’d like to learn more about use cases, data optimization, convergence, and other aspects of digital twin technology.

The Digital Twin As a Sustainability Tool

The survey also identified sustainability breakthroughs. Digital twins are simulating the way to a net zero future, as 92% of respondents indicated the technology has improved sustainability within their organization. Organizations use digital twin technology for a wide range of functions and reasons, with top use cases including:

  • 95% to better inform new product development

  • 51% to create smart objects

  • 50% to monitor real-world objects in real-time

A Game-Changing Technology

Respondents reported where they see the greatest impacts of digital twin technology:

  • More accurate risk assessments, faster time to market, and improved customer satisfaction (73%)

  • Reduced maintenance and warranty costs (62%)

  • Nearly three in four respondents (73%) said the technology has made their products or processes more energy-efficient and/or less wasteful

  • Helping companies reach their sustainability goals in the efficient use of resources (76%), energy savings and saving on operating costs (74%), and waste reduction (60%).

Respondents also believe digital twin technology will reshape the way products are developed in the future:

  • 43% believe digital twins will make the need for physical testing obsolete within the next four years

  • 36% say the product development timeline will speed up

  • 33% believe the need for physical prototypes will be reduced

  • 28% say fewer simulations will be needed

  • Respondents from the consumer electronics, architecture/engineering/construction (AEC), and industrial equipment sectors were the most likely to say their organizations lowered maintenance and warranty costs using digital twin technology.

About the Author(s)

Rob Spiegel

Rob Spiegel serves as a senior editor for Design News. He started with Design News in 2002 as a freelancer and hired on full-time in 2011. He covers automation, manufacturing, 3D printing, robotics, AI, and more.

Prior to Design News, he worked as a senior editor for Electronic News and Ecommerce Business. He has contributed to a wide range of industrial technology publications, including Automation World, Supply Chain Management Review, and Logistics Management. He is the author of six books.

Before covering technology, Rob spent 10 years as publisher and owner of Chile Pepper Magazine, a national consumer food publication.

As well as writing for Design News, Rob also participates in IME shows, webinars, and ebooks.

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