Digital Twin: Real or often only a shadow?

When it comes to industry 4.0, a number of new concepts – one could almost call them buzzwords – are frequently mentioned but often remain undefined. Big data, data mining, industrial metaverse, or the catchwords digital twin and digital shadow. In the following, we’ll explain the difference between the two latter terms, the ways in which they might be connected and, most importantly, why we say that our digital twin is ‘real’.

Digital Twin: a general definition

What exactly is a digital twin?

The idea of a technical twin was born at NASA during the Apollo program. In the late 1960s, an identical copy of the spacecraft was built to simulate and test the actual behavior of Apollo in space prior to its launch.

Fast forward to 2002, where the concept of a digital twin was first publicly introduced by Michael Grieves (Florida Institute of Technology and consultant to NASA) at a Society of Manufacturing Engineers conference in Troy, Michigan. In 2010, NASA’s John Vickers introduced a new use of the term digital twin for a technology roadmap. It was no longer confined to manufacturing industries, but applied across all sectors, including construction, engineering, transportation, and aerospace.

Today, we define a digital twin to be a digital replica of a real-world material or immaterial object. It is irrelevant whether the real-world counterpart already exists or will only come into existence in the future.

In view of the advances made in information technology over the past decade, the concept of digital twins appears to be a cogent logical extension: using the right IT infrastructure, it has become feasible to digitally capture and represent actual or notional objects so comprehensively that simulation, monitoring, analysis, and forecasts are possible in previously unavailable detail.

This description represents the overlap of the many existing definitions of the digital twin concept. For the digital twin to usher in industry 4.0 and even the industrial metaverse, however, we don’t feel that this is really innovative enough.

In our Ascon Systems Automation Platform, we define a digital twin as follows: Based on a logical model, the twin must act and interact autonomously while a factory is in operation. The Ascon Systems Automation Platform makes it possible to see both past and future of a production and to

adjust devices, processes, or settings rapidly, flexibly, and autonomously in the present. Control your production here and now, with only a few clicks. All decisions are based on data and modelling, validated and controlled.

The way we talk about digital twins will need to keep up with software makers that are clearly pursuing widely diverging concepts.

Either way, it should be noted that the current hype concerning the digital twin and its almost unfathomable potential will become the digitalized industry’s new paradigm. Without the digital twin, industry 4.0 will never materialize. And what’s more, digital twins are the ticket for the journey to the industrial metaverse.

Not a digital shadow

A digital twin is not a shadow, because shadows – even though a wide range of data is available – do not provide interoperability between the real and physical world. The digital shadow is limited to collecting and presenting data, while a real digital twin is able to interact with a real-world object.

Not a simulation

A digital twin is not a simulation, since a simulation is the emulation of a system and its dynamic processes in an experimental model to gain insights that can be transferred to the real-world situation. A simulation is created to answer a predefined question, while the aim of a digital twin is to have a constant, positive feedback loop between real-world object and digital copy. A digital twin is, especially focused on capturing measurement data and information during operations, utilizing them across multiple layers and within various systems and objects. A simulation is not digitally connected to a real-world object.

Not Computer-Aided Design (CAD)

Computer-Aided Design is a precursor of the digital twin, but the digital twin is much more than CAD.

CAD creates preliminary designs of real machines and their features prior to production. A CAD model describes reality but has no links to it.

Digital Shadow: Why it is not a digital twin.

‘Digital shadow’ refers to the process data generated by machines during operation. These raw data are passive by-products of the actual production in a factory. Users can access and aggregate this data through the IT infrastructure. However, this represents an incomplete data pool which may be further processed and interpreted to answer specific questions. For more in-depth analysis, the digital shadow’s data can be augmented by dynamic data and in this way provide more detailed insights. When recognized as data traces which completely lack connectivity, it becomes evident why they are unable to influence the real-world system they refer to. Only systems which react to the digital shadow (e.g., sensor-actuator systems) can autonomously take action, fully or partially automated, to influence production.

Who profits from a digital twin?

Primarily manufacturing companies with complex and comprehensive processes and products will benefit from digital twins. In particular, production processes which have an intense and regular flow of sensor data may profit from digital twins. Should this not be the case, cost and complexity will likely make the use of a digital twin unattractive or unprofitable.

Types of projects which specifically benefit from the use of digital twins are, e.g.:

Physically large projects: buildings, bridges and other complex structures

Mechanically complex projects: jet turbines, automobiles and aircraft

Power equipment: mechanisms for generating and transmitting power 

Manufacturing projects in industrial environments with co-functioning machine systems

Therefore, the industries that achieve the greatest success with digital twins are those involved with large-scale products or projects:

  • engineering (systems)
  • automobile manufacturing
  • aircraft production
  • railcar design
  • construction
  • manufacturing • power utilities

A new dimension: Ascon Systems digital twin

Ascon System’s digital twin encompasses everything you understand about digital twins, plus the capability to enable real-world objects and their twins to interact in near real-time, automated, and as a self-learning system. Using the Ascon Systems Automation Platform, you create a digital inventory of your facility, your overall production or entire factory and control all your real-world objects and their digital twins in near real-time from a single dashboard. Production data can be continually monitored, while sensors, actuators, status and faults reporting, process and behavior modelling, twin templates and validations do their work automatically. Whether on the shop floor or remote, you can react to events immediately and with only a few clicks, take anticipatory action, access the data history, and directly implement altered requirements. Boundaries which were considered insurmountable in the automation pyramid disappear, and you take full digital control of your entire production facility, if not your whole factory.

In addition, Ascon System’s digital twin is naturally also fully matured when it comes to IT security, access rights, handling of certificates, and version control.

Because there can be no one-size-fits-all approach to digital twins, Ascon Systems develops a fully customized concept for the introduction of the Ascon Digital Twin in collaboration with its customers. Ascon Systems plans your company’s digital future with you and will also ensure that your existing staff will master the digital twin and use it to its full potential.

With Ascon System’s digital twin, you safeguard your long-term future viability and competitive edge, and simultaneously improve your climate footprint thanks to reduced resource and energy inputs.


For those highly specialized industries which benefit from the use of digital twins, the twin concept ushers in a new age and blazes a trail to the industrial metaverse. Without digital twins and artificial intelligence, industry 4.0 will not come to pass. For most companies, maintaining their digital competitiveness will mean, at a minimum, an in-depth exploration of digital shadows. In addition, industry 4.0 will face the issues of the ethics of globalization, the climate crisis, and the skills shortage, and here, too, the digital twin is the best possible answer.

Ascon Systems is your partner for digital strategies, unearthing your digital treasure, and introducing the real digital twin to your company. Experience the digital production of the future – with Ascon Systems!


Claudia Schulz, Technical Writer, ASCon Systems Holding GmbH

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