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Digital Twins In Action—How government can take flight in the virtual world
Greg Porter, Senior Systems Architect, Sev1Tech


Digital twin technology has revolutionized the manufacturing industry, creating a way for organizations to predict and solve for nearly every challenge from lifecycle management to unplanned work stoppages.

Even though we don’t think of the federal government as a manufacturer, agencies from the Department of Defense (DoD) to DOE and beyond, build, deploy and manage some of the most expensive and complex vehicles, machinery and equipment on the planet.

Because of this, digital twins presents an opportunity to streamline government operations and maintenance, making them more effective and efficient, as well as also enhancing and emboldening everything from national security to lifesaving discoveries.

Defining The Digital Twin + The Role In Government

Taking a step back, to understand the meaning and components of this technology is quite instructive. Simply put, a digital twin is a computer- generated, virtual representation of a physical object, process, or environment that mirrors its real world counterpart as a way to predict future behavior.

Using technology such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), a digital twin replicates everything about the physical asset, including all of its functionality and behavior, using smart sensors that collect real time data. These virtual representations can use that incoming information along with simulation and modeling technology to game out real world, operating scenarios.

Integrating any flow of changing information that changes in the physical twin will automatically update the digital twin. Because of that process, organizations can interact with the model to monitor changes and predict future events.

Like most emerging technologies, the evolution of digital twins has been innovated and iterated in the private sector. However, the federal government isn’t lagging far behind.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report in February of this year as part of the agency’s spotlight series that dives into why this new tech matters and how agencies can use the technology.

The GAO notes that the term digital twins was actually coined by NASA engineers in the 1960s — they applied the concept by building physical and computational models of the Apollo 13 mission vehicles on the ground that were adapted to match the vehicles’ changing conditions in space.

It has taken more than 50 years to arrive at our current iteration of the term digital twin, but similar to some of the most foundational technologies since the dawn of computing, the concept was born out of federal innovation.


Digital Twins In Action

NASA is still engaging with digital twins, but in a much more complex way than the agency did around Apollo 13. The space agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans manufactures and assembles critical hardware components for exploration vehicles under development.

The engineers building and maintaining the processes for these mission- essential parts will use digital twins as a virtual walk through the facility. This means employees will be able to work at the facility without physically being on site, while still being fed real time information.

Some of the goals with the digital twin work for NASA are to improve the efficiency and quality of maintaining the facility and managing the needs of the NASA program. This should ultimately lead to decreased downtimes, improved communication and decreased costs. To that end, the agency is equipping the Michoud-specific digital twin with some futuristic capabilities, including:

•    Interactive holographic models and AI generated asset placements based on historical movements of the assets.
•    Simulating complex crane lifts or asset moves across the factory.
•    Real-time monitoring and alerting of the state of the factory through

IoT connected sensors.

An important complement to the digital twin at the Michoud facility is NASA’s use of a digital thread. This will be the single source of truth for information flowing into the digital twin.

This virtual pipeline will connect the various disparate systems like requirements databases, system architecture tools, project lifecycle management tools and 3D modeling software.

Connecting these systems through the digital thread will ensures that the digital twin is using data in real time and also allows project managers, engineers, IT and security professionals to holistically view all data from all systems throughout the entire organization.

For many industries, deploying a digital twin is a way to reduce costs, improve production and test supply chains. For the government, the benefits go a step further, reaching through everything from national security to healthcare to interstellar discovery.

There are many innovative technology and moving parts underpinning digital twins, but taken together and deployed properly, they can work seamlessly to optimize some of the biggest challenges facing government.

Digital twins have the potential to change the way federal agencies serve both the public and their individual missions.

Greg Porter

Author Greg Porter is a Senior Systems Architect at Sev1Tech. He has been with the company since October of 2021, leading the Artificial Intelligence team as well as the company’s Digital Twin and Digital Thread efforts. For more than 12 years, Greg Porter has been a noteworthy leader in the IT industry. Prior to Sev1Tech, he was a Senior Systems Architect at Geocent, leading data analytics for logistics and Hadoop cluster projects, and Senior Big Data Administrator at Honeywell FM&T, where he was responsible for Big Data infrastructure design, configuration, installation, and security. Greg Porter has been honored with multiple Innovator of the Year awards for his contributions to Sev1Tech and, formerly, Geocent. He holds a master’s degree in Data Analytics from Western Governors University.