TechInsights by Visoric Part 1: How CAD Data Becomes Digital Twins.

TechInsights by Visoric Part 1: How CAD Data Becomes Digital Twins.

Digital Twins and Their Importance

In recent years, the technology of digital twins has gained significant importance in the industry. Forecasts suggest that by 2025, the digital twin market will be worth over 35 billion US dollars.

The reason for this rapid growth lies in the diverse opportunities digital twins offer: From improved error detection, optimized maintenance processes, to more efficient product development. Companies that adopt this technology report reduced operating costs, faster time-to-market, and an enhanced customer experience.

Given these impressive benefits and capabilities, many innovators are faced with the challenge of integrating digital twin technology into their businesses. The question arises: How can one create efficient and realistic digital twins from existing CAD data? This article aims to acquaint innovators with how they can successfully master this transition using modern gaming technology, particularly through the use of game engines.


What is a digital twin?

A digital twin, often referred to in German as “Digital Twin”, is a virtual representation of a physical product, process, or system. With the help of state-of-the-art software and sensors, real states can be captured and transferred to the digital world. This not only allows for comprehensive monitoring but also predicts future states and events. For instance, the wear and tear of a machine can be monitored and predicted in real time, long before it leads to an actual breakdown.

The significance of digital twins in the industry

In the industry, digital twins offer numerous benefits: They can be used for error detection, optimizing maintenance processes, product development, and much more. They provide businesses with unprecedented transparency and control over their operations and products. Furthermore, they allow for risk-free environments through simulations where various scenarios can be tested before being implemented in the real world.

Applications of Digital Twins and Their Advantages

From mechanical engineering to the aerospace industry, digital twins are used in almost every sector. They make it possible to model and analyze complex systems and processes. The insights gained from this can be used to increase efficiency, reduce costs, and improve product quality. Another advantage is the possibility of remote monitoring: plants and systems can be monitored and maintained from a distance, which is invaluable in times of global networking and digitalization.

The fascination and immense potential of digital twins lie in their versatility and transformative character. They merge the physical with the digital world, offering a bridge between the past, present, and future.

Traditional Methods of Digital Twin Creation

The idea of projecting physical entities into the digital world is not new. Before modern game engines came into play, companies relied on traditional software solutions to create digital twins. These traditional methods provided a solid framework but also had their limitations.

Overview of Common Software Solutions

Siemens NX: A pioneer in creating digital twins, Siemens NX offers an integrated solution for product design, engineering, and manufacturing. It allows for a seamless integration of multidisciplinary processes in a single system, where the entire product lifecycle can be modeled and simulated.

PTC ThingWorx: As one of the leading platforms in the Internet of Things (IoT) domain, PTC ThingWorx focuses on the connectivity and data analysis of connected devices and systems. By collecting and analyzing real-time data, companies can optimize operational processes and make predictions.

ANSYS Twin Builder: Specifically designed for the creation of digital twins, ANSYS Twin Builder offers comprehensive simulation functionalities. With this software, users can test and predict the performance of products in real-life operational scenarios.

Advantages and Limitations of Traditional Methods

The advantages of these traditional software solutions lie in their proven reliability and extensive functionality. They provide robust tools for complex simulation tasks and are often able to work with a variety of CAD formats.

However, these solutions also have their limits. They are often expensive to acquire and require specially trained professionals for effective use. Moreover, in terms of user interface and interactivity, they can’t compete with modern game engines. The learning curve for beginners is often steep, and some of these tools are less flexible when it comes to making adjustments or changes.

Application Examples and Case Studies

A good example of the successful use of traditional software is the aircraft manufacturer Airbus. They use Siemens NX to create digital twins of their aircraft, which allows them to shorten development cycles and reduce costs. Another example is the energy giant Shell, which uses PTC ThingWorx to monitor the data of its offshore drilling rigs in real-time. This enables them to identify potential problems before they become real threats.

These case studies illustrate how traditional software solutions can help companies achieve operational excellence, even though they lack some of the flexibilities and user-friendliness of modern game engines.

The Rise of Game Engines in Industrial Application

While traditional methods of creating digital twins have their strengths, the integration of game engines like Unity and Unreal Engine opens a new world of possibilities. Originally developed for video game creation, today they are used in many industrial scenarios, from architecture to medicine to manufacturing.

Brief Overview: Unity and Unreal Engine

Unity: One of the most well-known and widely used game engines, Unity provides a flexible platform for creating 3D, 2D, VR, and AR visualizations. With a rich ecosystem of plugins and an active community, Unity allows the creation of realistic and interactive digital twins.

Unreal Engine: Known for its impressive graphical performance and quality, Unreal Engine provides a powerful platform for creating digital twins. With advanced lighting and shading options, as well as the capability to create complex simulations, Unreal Engine is particularly suitable for applications requiring a high degree of realism.

Advantages of Game Engines Over Traditional Methods

The biggest advantage of game engines lies in their visualization capabilities. Thanks to their origins in the gaming industry, these engines are designed to create realistic, immersive, and interactive environments. This allows for a detailed representation of machines, buildings, and other entities in a digital twin.

Another key advantage is interactivity. With game engines, users can “dive into” the digital twin, view it from various angles, and even conduct real-time simulations. Furthermore, game engines are often more user-friendly and require less specialized training than traditional software solutions.

Last but not least, game engines are typically more cost-effective. Many offer free or affordable licenses, making them attractive for start-ups and smaller companies.

Application Examples in Other Industries

Beyond industrial applications, game engines have made their mark in various sectors. In architecture, for example, they enable architects to create realistic 3D models of buildings and simulate lighting conditions, materials, and environments. In the medical field, game engines are used to visualize human anatomy and conduct medical simulations.

A particularly fascinating example can be found in film production. Here, game engines enable the creation of realistic CGI scenes. A prominent case is the film “The Mandalorian”, where the Unreal Engine was used to render impressive backgrounds and scenarios in real-time.

These diverse applications demonstrate that the boundaries of what is possible with game engines are constantly being expanded, and they are of central importance beyond just gaming.

Step-by-step: Transforming CAD Data into Digital Twins with Game Engines

The integration of CAD data into a game engine represents a synthesis between technical precision and visual brilliance. Although the process might seem daunting at first, it is achievable with some basic knowledge and steps. Here’s a guide to make this transition as smooth as possible.

Selection and Preparation of CAD Data

Before the data can be imported into a game engine, it must be prepared first.

  • Data Format: Not all CAD file formats are directly compatible with game engines. Commonly used formats include FBX or OBJ, as these are well supported by both CAD software and game engines.
  • Data Cleaning: Redundant or unnecessary information should be removed from the CAD file. This includes superfluous components, internal structures, or invisible elements. This reduces the file size and facilitates import.
  • Optimization: Complex models with high polygon counts can affect performance in the game engine. Tools like MeshLab or Blender can help simplify models without losing significant details.

Import and Adjustment in the Game Engine

Once the CAD data is prepared, the next step is importing it into the game engine.

  • Import: In engines like Unity or Unreal, one can directly import the prepared CAD data. Any textures or material information should also be included to preserve the model’s realism.
  • Scaling and Positioning: It’s crucial to position the model at the right size and orientation within the virtual environment.
  • Materials and Lighting: Game engines offer advanced material and lighting options. Assigning materials and setting up light sources are vital to give the digital twin a realistic look.

Interactivity and Simulation

The advantage of using game engines is the ability to bring the model to life.

  • Animation: Moving parts of the model, like machine parts or doors, can be animated to demonstrate function and mechanics.
  • User Interaction: Features can be added allowing the user to interact with the model – whether by rotating, zooming, or activating specific functions.
  • Simulation: Depending on the complexity of the model and the engine, physical simulations can also be carried out, such as demonstrating a machine’s operation or the flow of liquids.

This process shows that integrating CAD data into game engines, although requiring careful preparation, ultimately leads to an impressive and interactive representation of the digital twin.

Challenges and Solutions when Using Game Engines for Digital Twins

As tempting as the benefits of using game engines for digital twins might be, there are also challenges that can arise during the process. However, these obstacles are not insurmountable, and with the right approach, they can be mastered.

Data Integrity and Accuracy

Challenge: Game engines are primarily designed for visual representation and interactivity, not necessarily for the exact replication of technical models. This can lead to deviations or inaccuracies in the presentation of CAD data.

Solution: Thorough checking and validation of the imported data are crucial. For critical applications, a comparison with the original CAD file should take place to ensure that no essential information is lost or altered.

Performance Requirements

Challenge: Game engines can be very resource-intensive, especially when dealing with complex models with a high number of polygons and advanced light and shading effects. This can lead to performance issues on standard hardware.

Solution: It’s essential to optimize the model and the environment for optimal performance. This might mean removing unnecessary details, reducing the resolution of textures, or adjusting the Level of Detail (LOD) so that models appear less detailed from a distance. Another approach could be using cloud-based solutions to offload compute-intensive tasks.

Training and Expertise

Challenge: Working with game engines requires a different kind of expertise than working with traditional CAD software. This can result in a learning curve for engineers and designers unfamiliar with this technology.

Solution: Continuing education and training can help bridge this gap. Many game engine manufacturers offer comprehensive tutorials, webinars, and courses to facilitate user onboarding. Additionally, involving experts from the game development sector can provide valuable insights and support.

In summary, using game engines for digital twins requires both technical and creative thinking. By being aware of the challenges and proactively seeking solutions, this innovative technology can be successfully implemented in industrial production.

Future Prospects: The Evolution of Digital Twins through Game Engines

While the integration of CAD data into game engines already delivers impressive results, this technology is just beginning its development in an industrial context. It will be exciting to see how this sector will evolve in the coming years and what new opportunities and challenges might arise.

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR)

Development: Game engines like Unity and Unreal are at the forefront of introducing AR and VR. These technologies have the potential to elevate the experience with digital twins to a whole new level.

Potential: Imagine engineers immersing themselves in a virtual environment, interacting with the digital twin as if it were real, or using AR to project the digital twin into the physical world to conduct complex analyses and simulations.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)

Development: With the integration of AI and ML into game engines, the digital twin won’t just be a static model. Instead, it could learn, predict, and even act autonomously based on the data it collects and analyzes.

Potential: This could be revolutionary in areas such as preventive maintenance, fault detection, and system optimization. A digital twin that uses AI to predict the wear and tear of machine components, for example, could automatically generate maintenance requirements or adjust processes to maximize efficiency.

Integration into Larger Ecosystems

Development: Instead of acting as isolated models, digital twins could increasingly be integrated into broader digital ecosystems. This could facilitate information flow between various departments, systems, and even companies.

Potential: A digital twin interacting in real-time with supply chains, production lines, and customer service systems could drastically shorten production and delivery times while simultaneously increasing quality and customer satisfaction.

It is clear that game engines in the world of digital twins are not just a passing phenomenon but have the potential to fundamentally change the way we look at technology and production.

Practical Steps to Implementing Game Engines in Your Company

Successful implementation of game engines for creating digital twins requires not just technical knowledge, but also a well-thought-out strategy. It’s essential to understand that it’s not just about implementing new software but about effectively transforming business processes and corporate culture.

Analysis of the Current State and Goal Definition

Assessment: Before diving into the world of game engines, you must clearly understand where you currently stand and what you aim to achieve. This means a thorough analysis of your current CAD tools, workflows, and general technology status.

Measures: Set clear goals for your Digital Twin initiative. Do you want to speed up the product development process, optimize maintenance processes, or find an entirely new application for digital twins in your company?

Team Assembly and Training

Challenge: As previously mentioned, working with game engines requires a different kind of expertise than traditional CAD software.

Solution: Assemble an interdisciplinary team that has expertise in both traditional CAD modeling and game development. Invest in training to ensure your team has the skills to effectively use game engines for digital twins.

Pilot Project and Scaling

Start small: Instead of immediately aiming for company-wide implementation, start with a pilot project. Choose a specific application or department and test the game engine integration there.

Scale and Optimize: After the success of your pilot project, you can scale up your efforts. Use the insights from the pilot to optimize the implementation in other areas and refine the process.

Overall, introducing game engines into the digital twin creation process requires commitment, investments in technology and personnel, and an open-minded approach to new ways of working. With the right preparation and strategy, however, this innovation can bring significant benefits to your company.

Conclusion and Outlook: The Role of Game Engines in the Industrial Sector

Today’s advanced technology lays the foundation for tomorrow’s innovations. In this context, the integration of game engines into the process of creating digital twins holds a special place. It offers not only new possibilities in modeling and visualization but also in interaction and practical application of technology.

The Synergy of Gaming and Industry

Review: In the past, game engines were almost exclusively used for video game development. However, the boundaries between fields are becoming blurred. The industrial use of game engines is a prime example of this merging.

Meaning: The transition demonstrates that technological advancements in one area often find unexpected applications in another. Game engines introduce dynamics, interactivity, and impressive graphic quality to the industrial sector, making complex models and systems more understandable and accessible.

The Growing Importance of Digital Twins

Future: As digitization continues to advance, digital twins will become an indispensable tool in many industries. Their use will span from product development, through manufacturing, to maintenance and service.

Possibilities: The combination of digital twins and game engines could pave the way for real-time analysis, improved product life cycles, and personalized customer experiences. Seamless integration into other technologies such as AR, VR, and AI will further expand the application possibilities.

Ready for the Future: Navigating Technological Challenges

Understanding the Landscape: In an ever-changing technological world, we constantly face new challenges. But it is precisely in these challenges that immense opportunities lie. For those companies that dare to seize these opportunities and invest in advanced technologies, doors open to new dimensions of success.

Strategic Recommendations: It is essential to fully grasp the transformative potential that game engines offer in creating digital twins from CAD data. Proactive learning and adapting to these innovations can put your company at the forefront of this revolution.

While we try to provide an overview of this topic, allow us one final note:

This article can only offer a brief insight into the possibilities and approaches that game engines open up for creating digital twins from CAD data. For a more detailed consultation tailored to your specific needs, the Visoric team is at your disposal. We understand the complexity and uniqueness of each project and would be happy to advise you individually. Please feel free to contact us to learn more.

Do you have questions or are you looking for expert consultation for the practical implementation and creation of digital twins from your CAD data?

The Visoric team is ready and eager to support you on your innovative journey.

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Here’s how to reach us!

Phone: +49 89 21552678

Ulrich Buckenlei (Creative Director)
Mobile +49 152 53532871

Nataliya Daniltseva (Project Manager)
Mobile + 49 176 72805705

Bayerstraße 13
D-80335 Munich

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