Four ways cross-sector digital twins must work together

Visual representing digital twins
Image: Jakarin Niamklang |
A four-strand protocol is necessary for cross-sector digital twins to succeed, according to a new report from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).

The IET report proposes that the so-called Apollo Protocol will “unlock the benefits of digital twins between the manufacturing and built environment sectors, with the support of the technology sector”. The protocol is a framework for different
industrial sectors to engage with and learn from each other.

The IET notes: “When it comes to innovation, the manufacturing and built environment sectors often work with similar processes, only in different ways.”

Thus the protocol “is essential for developing cross-sector initiatives effectively, such as digital twins”. It is a framework of principles that will “encourage collaborative cross-sector activity, bringing together policy, standards, working practices and existing initiatives”.

The protocol’s four aims are:
  • to identify a single value chain for data and information management. And promote this through to policy makers responsible for procurement;
  • to pursue circularity through the alignment of trade standards and processes and to realise the benefit of different material consumptions through new business models;
  • to optimise performance through the implementation of digitally transparent and interoperable supply chains; and
  • to manage human capital between the sectors to ensure that competition is healthy while achieving a common goal.

The IET proposes that the Apollo Forum should define the Apollo Protocol. The forum would establish working groups focused on cross-sectoral digital twin interfaces. Its mission would be to “bridge sectors, untangling and aligning cultural, process and technological factors” by identifying a combined strategic direction and language for
digital twins in manufacturing and the built environment.

The forum would be sponsored by:
  • the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy;
  • the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult;
  • the Cambridge Centre for Digital Built Britain;
  • the Construction Leadership Council (CLC);
  • the Construction Innovation Hub;
  • the Digital Twin Hub (supported by the Connected Places Catapult);
  • techUK;
  • the Alan Turing Institute; and
  • the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.

Professor Rab Scott, chief engineer – digital at the HVM Catapult, said: “Since 2016, Google web searches for the topic ‘digital twins’ has multiplied by a factor of 25. But therein lies the problem. As more sectors adopt them, a greater need for a common language arises. The Apollo Protocol will break down this semantic barrier through
thematic cross-sectoral engagement.”

Neil Thompson FIET, director at Atkins and digital manufacturing and performance lead at the CLC, added: “Our engineering disciplines are fragmented within and between sectors. The Apollo Protocol is an opportunity for a ‘great unification’ of engineering where we will see the coming together of engineering disciplines under a common purpose to design high-performing system of systems and enable a truly circular and sustainable built environment.”

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