Andrew Paterson, Group Leader - Program & Technology - NSW & ACT
Digital twin technologies have already changed the way major infrastructure is delivered, enabling users to make more informed decisions and prioritise proactive asset maintenance. With proven efficiencies and so much talk of potential, what benefits might digital twins offer the rail sector?
A digital twin is a virtual representation of a real-world physical system or process. Using a digital twin, users can simulate scenarios, monitor data, and model outcomes to bring efficiency to the planning, design, construction, and operation processes.
The rail ecosystem has many moving live assets, and digital twin technology offers significant opportunities to improve passenger experience and add value to major projects.
For a rail operator, digital twins will be able to monitor crowd flow, station congestion, carriage temperature, and security. Digital twins can also forecast the future performance of physical assets and introduce predictive maintenance. In practice, that means our rail systems will operate more efficiently, delivering better value for money and improve passenger experience.
Like many sectors with large, complex organisations, the rail industry isn't immune to siloing data. Connecting all internal systems into a digital twin would create a central interface that would improve visibility, enabling better analysis of performance issues and generating improvements that can be applied to the physical asset. However, data currency, data standards and buy-in are significant obstacles for the rail sector. Achieving a digital twin at scale requires considerable cooperation from all parts of an organisation to move towards collaborative systems and adhere to data standards. Without these foundations, a digital twin will not have the integrity to function as a reliable source of information. Digital twin users must trust that the information is live, or current and accurate. Once this trust is dented, it’s hard to repair.
Consensus and opportunity To successfully embed digital twin technology in the rail sector, we will need to work collectively to bridge gaps across the industry. We must come to a consensus on what a digital twin looks like, which will require industry-wide education and acceptance. Organisations will then have a greater chance to understand the benefits, provide lessons learnt, and equip the industry with a greater understanding of how a digital twin can add value to the built environment and our communities.