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Physical and Digital Twins Complement Each Other in Modern Propulsion System Design

In maritime propulsion systems risk management is the key. Complete systems are big and expensive. They are used for a long time and in demanding environments. Sudden breakdown of such system is extremely unwanted and the consequences severe: human lives can be in danger, vessels sink, and oil leak into the nature. Events like these create serious financial and reputational setbacks for companies who operate the vessels.

Risks can be minimized and mitigated by simulating the behavior of a propulsion system. In the Reboot IoT Factory project Kongsberg, EDRMedeso, Åbo Akademi, VTT, and The University of Oulu approach the challenge via so called Digital Twin concept.

The idea, in its simplicity, is that a digital counterpart (twin) of the propulsion system is created. This twin simulates the behavior of the physical system. Both have their roles and strengths: the physical twin is generating information from the real world environment and feeds it to the digital twin. The digital twin, in turn, aims to simulate the events based on the data it receives. The simulation results enable for example predicting and scheduling maintenance operations.

Implementing all this in practice is, however, far from simple. Sensors measuring relevant phenomena need to be attached to the propulsion system. With technology the amount of physical sensors can be reduced by replacing some of them with virtual sensors “attached” to the digital twin. The total amount of data captured by the sensors is massive. The twins live parallel lives so the data must be crunched in real time. From several concurrent data streams conclusions are drawn on which observations explain relevant phenomena and which are mere noise.

Modeling all this is challenging but the project team has made several breakthroughs. Now eight months into the project, piloting the concept is already planned and the first products will soon hit the market. In addition to several technological aspects, the project team has also concentrated on identifying business fit and commercial potential. Here, adaptability of the solution is crucial: it can be tailored to suit the needs of various customers. For example an oil rig and a cruise ship are quite different. Despite this, the same method can be customized to satisfy both.

The internet of things (IoT) and the digital twin concept building on top of it are new things not only in the maritime business, but any industry. In order for a new commercial innovation to succeed, one needs a strong ecosystem and trailblazing customers. Such customers are willing to pilot the new approach first and also communicate their success stories. The Reboot IoT Factory project has concentrated also on ensuring this.

EDR Medeso
Åbo Akademi
University of Oulu

Santtu Toivonen

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