- Aegis Combat System ‘Digital Twin’ Pilot Program will Lead to Fielding Faster Upgrades
The Navy will deploy a “Digital Twin” of the Aegis Combat System and if the pilot program proves successful, could one day help the service test new Aegis upgrades or add-ons on a cruiser or destroyer at-sea without interfering with that ship’s actual combat system and ability to operate.
The Digital Twin is the entire set of code that makes up the Aegis Combat System Baseline 9 housed within a few computer servers that takes up much less room than the actual Aegis Combat System on a guided-missile destroyer or cruiser.
Navy will put the Aegis virtual twin on a destroyer going through its Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) and “what we’ll be testing in that early test is how we might be able to introduce an algorithm to a baseline build and test it real-time, using real-time input from the system.
We’ll be taking a passive tap off the tactical suite on the ship, so while the ship’s installed Aegis Combat System is controlling operations during COMPTUEX, the virtual twin would be “seeing” the exact same scenario and responding based on the additional algorithm it has – in this case, an algorithm to improve the surface tracking picture.
“In addition to the virtual twin that we’ll have on the ship, there’s also accompanying automated test/re-test capability on the ship.”
“So at any time we want to run or record data – or see, in the case of our test we’ll have plans to have an algorithm that helps improve the surface tracking picture – we’ll be able to run on the ship that ATRT which will tell me right then on the ship how well the system did, where the problems are, how it performed functionally.”
If successful, the Aegis Digital Twin will prove out this new algorithm in a tactically relevant situation at sea without any additional cost for at-sea testing, since the destroyer would be going through its COMPTUEX with or without this virtual twin testing.
The next phase of this pilot program would put another virtual twin on a ship conducting a live-fire missile shot of a Standard Missile as part of a Combat Systems Ship Qualifications Trials (CSSQT) or another fleet exercise.
Much like the first test, the Aegis Digital Twin would not affect ship operations during the missile shot but would receive all the same inputs as the ship’s combat system and would be stimulated to respond as if it were the one controlling the missile launch.
”The benefits of that are also pretty incredible: right now … when you have a combat system capability improvement) build that you want to introduce on ship, when you start stepping through its developmental testing or its operational testing, you have to take it out and do a live-fire of that event, at the cost and expense of having the ship on range, taking it out of operational availability, and also the cost of targets, the cost of the Standard Missile itself.
Since that capability build has to be tested anyway, “what we are going to try to do is actually have a build that is in development on the same ship that we have a build that we’re doing the operational test, and we’ll be able to stimulate that in-development build with a live-fire event and be able to save all those resources.
So we’ll be able to take that back then to the development branch and make whatever changes we need to, and then make it with some certainty, and then take it out on the range and do the live-fire event.”
Ultimately, this ability to test a less mature build for free essentially would allow the developers to work out any kinks experienced at sea before actually paying for the build’s own operational test and evaluation event.
For the third phase of the Aegis Digital Twin pilot program, we hope to send the Digital Twin package out on a destroyer for an entire deployment.
“What the eventual vision would be is that … we could get to the point where you’re collecting real-time data on computer programs that you’re developing – collecting that data real-time at sea shooting real missiles, and you can link that back to my development and test and certification element back on the land, and have a seamless back-and-forth between the ship and my land-based site to allow real-time OQE (objective quality evidence), real-time certification, real-time adjustments to the computer program.
Then you can push that right back out to the ship without having to wait 18 months, 24 months to actually have to go back in, re-code, re-test, re-certify, take it out on the range, and so forth.”
“We have some work to do here. This approach is going to go way to the left of how we are currently doing business and how we collect OQE and how we test and certify. It’s certainly a direction we need to go – certainly a step in getting to the point where Aegis eventually goes completely virtual, to where you have the whole computer program virtual.”
Having warfighting systems “virtualized” – and Aegis already is, and other program managers within the Program Executive Office for Integrated Warfare Systems are working on virtualizing theirs – creates significant opportunities not just for testing and certifying but also for training and innovation.
2. The Aegis Digital Twin construct will open the door for training opportunities
“When we’re coming out every few months with a new capability that’s absolutely required, making sure the sailors know how to operate it effectively is absolutely critical. So these kinds of tools will help us both in the schoolhouse, at the waterfront, and then eventually what we want to be able to do is do it on a ship as well.”
We are starting to use a virtualized Aegis system to help train sailors at schoolhouses despite the many different baselines and configurations that exist in the fleet today.
There’s a Combined Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) and Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Trainer (CIAT), where “we can just take software, we can load the new Aegis load onto our hardware and run what we need to run on reconfigurable consoles – so the next group of sailors that come through may be on a 51-class Destroyer that has this baseline, the next group of sailors that comes through may be cruiser sailors on a different baseline, so we’ll take a couple hours, reload the software and we’ll be ready to train them.”
We are still trying to understand how to leverage the CIAT capability but it only takes up half a rack of computer servers, whereas Aegis Combat System on a ship takes up several racks, so this flexible and more-portable option may yield great benefit to the training community.
“You can take this to the waterfront and help train crews who are getting their ships upgraded, modernized. We’re going to be doing that for the two 9.2 cruisers.”
Every two years a new software advanced capability build (ACB) is released but isn’t always pushed to ships very quickly – submarines may wait six years or cruisers and destroyers nine years, if the update just misses them in a maintenance availability. The Navy needs to get to a place where these ACBs could be pushed out to the ships and subs faster, and virtualization is an important first step in being able to do that.
We have two virtualized SQQ-89A (V)15 systems being tested on land now, and we are going to start testing those on a ship. to see how the virtualized system works with the sonar system, which is a first step in understanding if a virtualized system can be created to allow for near-real-time software improvements instead of the biannual big block software update.
Now we have the first guided-missile cruiser in the fleet to upgrade from AEGIS Baseline 8 to the updated Baseline 9, and is underway testing new weapons capabilities in preparation for its upcoming deployment
- Optimizing aircraft maintenance using Digital Twin simulation data
With the ability to monitor aircraft performance using digital twin, airplane maintenance processes will be improving the maintenance of aircraft using virtual twin simulations.
The biggest challenges the aerospace industry has to face is the maintenance of aircraft and its parts. It takes an immense amount of effort to ensure that all of the parts of an aircraft are ready to perform well.
To do these checks, a massive amount of workforce needs to be allocated prior to every single takeoff of a plane in order not to jeopardize safety of the crew.. Every single check has to be done thoroughly by qualified specialists and because of that, every airplane that operates has a “ceiling”. That ceiling is the amount of focus and attention the machinery has to get to ensure nothing will go wrong. Although the current internal processes that are being used to inspect aircraft make the job much easier, they are still limited as they do not have the features that Digital Twin has.
For instance, simulations that are created via virtual twinning allow direct, real-time monitoring of the health and structure of plane parts – this revolution can reduce the need for manual examination of aircraft engines down to zero. In addition, by having complete vision on the part durability of an aircraft in real-time, the overall lifespan of a plane or its engine can be determined within seconds – the accuracy of the lifespan estimates can be down to minutes.
This, of course, presupposes that the entire plane is fully and correctly “twinned” and all sensors are installed as they should be. By having such transparency on every single aircraft that takes off the ground, threat scenarios can be prevented. For instance, if the digital twin interface is clearly indicating that the overall life of an engine is going to end in 2 weeks time, specialists can release orders to not allow the vehicle to leave the airport.
We were struggling with the same problem we are talking about above – need for high maintenance, poor durability of aircraft parts, resulting in capped performance across the board. In order to help them fix this issue, we have leveraged the power of our network of industry leaders that are utilizing digital twin technology to its fullest extent and manufactured a blueprint that familiarized them with how virtual twin works.
By working with industry during their journey of manufacturing a virtual replica of their aircraft engine, we have continuously “handheld” them throughout every single step they need to take. The end result? A fully functional digital counterpart of their farm field aircraft that constantly monitors the overall health of the machine.
Now we can cut down the focus and workload that was previously needed to keep their operations going smoothly and reallocate it towards other processes such as developing new solutions for improving other things allow use of the virtual twin more effectively.
Besides managing to increase their profitability and efficiency in terms of marketing their aircraft service, they also have gathered valuable data they have collected using our digital twin solution that can be used to help other companies around the world whether it would be in a manner of selling the data or displaying it in order to contribute without charging for it.
- Utilizing Digital Twin simulation technology to optimize load
For instance, an aircraft that carries cargo often has a lot of limitations in terms of how many goods it is able to carry without imposing any risks like compromising the safety of the airplane itself. At the moment, it is virtually impossible to make an accurate estimate of exactly how many goods can be carried without increasing risks.
Because of this, pilots must underperform and fly with less cargo to ensure safety. However, if they would start twinning aircraft and work on simulating flights, they could accurately assess how many goods the plane is able to carry with extreme accuracy down to every single gram.
Now, you might think that this sounds too good to be true and to some extent, it is, but not in terms of the capabilities of the technology. Simply put, there are a lot of factors that need to be taken into consideration when judging the overall weight a plane can carry during travel. Some of those factors include weather conditions and air pressure that is present on certain heights most cargo planes fly in.
Digital Twin cannot exactly simulate weather, but it can gather data with every single flight an aircraft experiences and then take the gained intel to make accurate stipulations that are then thrown into the equation of determining weight limits. Put it this way – the more data the digital algorithm gathers, the more accurate the estimates are. It is only a matter of executing a couple of dozen flights with an aircraft before the data of digital twin can be fully trusted.
By using digital simulations that are directly connected to aircraft, we have revealed that the total load weight can be increased and the standard weight limits that are imposed on flight operations tend to be far off from reality. The increased load weight is a huge deal for any aerospace service company out there, especially when you consider the fact, that it can be increased 100% safely, without compromising safety.
- How Digital Twins keep Navy ahead on ship maintenance
Digital twin programs will offer the Air Force and Navy better control over the supply chain, including current knowledge of when parts are coming in and having control over engineering. “A lot of times we set very conservative inspection intervals that are based upon assumptions that we may not understand. “And maybe they want to assume more risk and bring these aircraft down for maintenance less often.
Right now, for the fleet of airplanes, we assume an average use. But what if you had one that was flown really hard? Maybe we need to bring that one in sooner, and delay maintenance on an aircraft that was flown for training.”
Condition-based maintenance is a catchword in the Air Force. The approach assumes repairs should be based on the condition at the time, and it presumes the fleet is being managed in a very reactionary sense. Instead, a predictive approach using digital twin technology will allow maintenance engineers to know in advance whether there’s a high likelihood that a part will need to be replaced and, in short order, ensure the supply chain has the part available to replace it.
“One of the biggest problems with depot maintenance is planes just waiting on parts to arrive. “Where predictive maintenance comes into play is using the digital twin for tracking airplane parts, putting in inspection results and saying, ‘okay, this plane is still good to go for now and the next time it comes back in we’re going to need these five things.’
The engineering model that we’re developing will allow them to do engineering work that sees into the future…And now we can maintain the airplanes when it’s convenient to us, instead of the airplane telling us it’s done until it gets maintained.”
- Digital Twin use can conduct shipboard repairs without needing to Dock.
Digital Twin technology will improve maintenance. Repetition and exposure are the best ways to grow mechanics’ and technical inspectors’ skills. But training and repetitive work on operational aircraft has the propensity to cause maintenance issues.
“Digital-twin technology provides a virtual environment that facilitates the crawl, walk, run training construct that enables Soldiers to develop confidence in a simulated environment before performing the task on an actual aircraft. “Virtual environments enable a task to be taught through distance learning with the subject matter expert thousands of miles away.”
The initial plan was to create a digital twin of the ship so maintenance engineers at the surface warfare centers could identify damage, corrosion and alignment issues faster and be more proactive on the maintenance when the ship comes into port.
Traditionally, ship inspections have been conducted manually, which often means the vessels must be in port. With a digital twin, however, sensor data collected by drones can be distributed to techs on shore – or vice versa – for inspection. Alternatively, the Navy can make sure that when the ship comes to port, the right people and tools are on hand to fix what’s broken.
“Because it’s the Navy, things happen at sea where maybe something gets damaged, maybe something fails. “This way, they can start getting this information back to the maintenance commands quicker and then have a tool -- a digital twin -- that they can now evaluate.”
Scans from drones and onboard photogrammetry were used to create time-based, geotagged, metadata-dense models of the Independence, which are far more actionable datasets for maintenance engineers. Having this digital twin results in lower maintenance costs and human error because experts onboard and on shore can view the same reliable data and make decisions before degradation hits the point of failure.
“Our ability as in-service engineers to support the fleet currently requires extensive on-site personnel in order to identify configuration, damage, corrosion and other mechanical issues. “The concept of a ‘digital twin’ or as-built models of surface ships provides extensive opportunities to better serve the fleet. Imagine being able to not only collect valuable information without placing maintenance personnel in potentially hazardous situations, but to also do it with the ship underway while obtaining better and more accurate data in the process."
When creating a digital twin, we start with a discovery phase to determine the appropriate remote-sensing technologies and design a purpose-built UAS that can collect the most useful data in the most practical way. We use hyperspectral imaging, which analyzes information from across the electromagnetic spectrum, and can detect corrosion because paint reflects radiation differently if there is underlying rust.
The digital twin also creates a single source of truth about the ship. “When you remodel a house, you’ll notice you have one prime contractor and you’ll have four or five subcontractors. If you pay attention to the blueprints they’re looking at, they’re not all the same blueprints. They’re looking at different variations of the same thing based on when they got it. This is a way to link all of this up so that everybody knows they’re all communicating about the same issues.”
7. Digital Twins Rapidly Test/Iterate Network Tech for Swarming Drones
Air Force is shifting the focus of doing its own testing of swarming weapons to developing a digital environment to test vendors bringing their own concepts.
“What we are looking to do is beginning a phase of an open, collaborative autonomy architecture, and this DoD-owned reference architecture is really going to be an environment where more players can come and compete their own versions of what autonomous collaborative weapons should be.”
The move follows the second flight test of in-house developed Collaborative Small Diameter Bombs (CSDB). involving four of the CSDBs, which feature data links to communicate, chose targets (based on pre-programmed algorithms) and coordinate strikes against an array of targets, independently from the human pilot. The first test, failed to meet all its flight objectives, so the second test utilized improved software.
CSDB is essentially a souped-up version of the Small Diameter Bomb that the Air Force has in abundance. Industry provided the seeker for finding adversary GPS jammers. “Supporting contractors provided the Banshee 2 networked software defined radio, the radio antenna, collaborative autonomy processor and algorithms, and integrating the new technologies into its SDB-I weapons.”
The end goal of the project is to explore as many options for new weapons as possible. And PEO Weapons wants to know what the “deliverables” of the program should be.
“A major component of that is building a Digital Twin architecture that will allow more testing of various kinds of collaborative technologies, and building in some containerized software solutions that could be more plug-and-play across weapons.”
That new digital environment will be a fully integrated simulation environment with weapon digital twins, or a real-world weapon and a virtual clone, to more rapidly test, demonstrate, improve and transition collaborative autonomous networked technologies.”
Digital Twin Simulations lead to greater proportion of the defense budget being available for new weapons, enables greater weapons availability and greater predictability, empowers a greater force lethality, and plays a critical role in safeguarding and supporting war fighters around the world.
- Air Force Is Stripping a B-1 Bomber Down to Its Bolts to Make a Digital Twin
One B-1B Lancer bomber is having a lengthy breakdown -- but for good reason.
Air Force Life Cycle Management Center have been stripping the supersonic heavy payload bomber down to its nuts and bolts and then scanning each part into a computer to make a perfect virtual copy of the aircraft.
The effort to make a B-1 digital twin -- will take six years to complete -- will help maintainers understand which parts break down fastest given the aircraft's operational wear and tear and how they can be improved.
"We have been scanning the wings, and the wing scans have been helping us understand how to build new repairs for some of the cracks that we have seen in the wings themselves.”
The digital twin will help maintainers expedite results and procedures for other B-1s.
"We will be able to apply data from aircraft in the field to help us predict areas that are more likely to have structural issues. "This living virtual model of the B-1's structure will be superimposed with layers of maintenance data, test and inspection results, and analysis tools, which can be integrated over the aircraft's life cycle."
"We are also currently developing inspection techniques and repairs for areas on the upper fuselage and sharing that data back with the manufacturer."
The collected data on the wings and fuselage will give maintainers more understanding of "fatigue damage in those areas.”
The B-1 has the ability to climb thousands of feet into the air, kick back its wings -- thanks to its variable swept-wing design -- and dive low, following the Earth like a jet ski skimming water.
However, last year, officials began telling B-1 pilots to cut back on the low-altitude terrain-following capability, known as TERFLW mode, in an effort to preserve the aircraft's structure.
The B-1 digital twin is just the latest effort to address the bomber's maintenance.
For example, the Lancer was one of the first aircraft named to the service's predictive maintenance experiment. Known as the condition-based maintenance technique, or CBM+, the program gives maintainers the ability to see when a part may fail and to schedule a fix before it does.
This will allow access to areas we’ve never looked at before.”
Every component of the B-1 will be painstakingly scanned using laser equipment which triangulates its position on the part to create a digital copy that can then be turned into a 3D model.
“It creates a digital representation on a computer and then a technician runs a verification against it to make sure that all the points have been scanned and there’s enough data.”
“And then they can take that and turn it into the solid model for manufacturing.”
Starting at the top of the B-1, the technicians will scan and peel away layers of the plane, then scan again. Rinse and repeat.
“It’s a long process. So, they’re scanning as they go along because we want to make sure we understand how everything is stacked up and put together.
Once finished, the Air Force will have a complete digital clone of the B-1 it can use to make predictions about damage the jet could potentially sustain in different scenarios.
“It can fly right along with the fleet, so we can actually take real-world data and put it into our digital model and see what’s going on in our fleet as a whole. “And so what that does for us is allows us to fly ahead of the fleet in the digital environment. We can simulate more hours on that aircraft without ever breaking one and we can see what’s going to happen in the future.”
The modeling will allow the Air Force to begin planning repairs before a plane is damaged.
“So you get out of the reactive state, what it is currently in, which means an aircraft breaks then you have to start building and repair it at inspection into a standpoint of ‘This is the next area we’re pretty sure something’s going to break.
Why don’t we plan now for what type of inspection and start planning a type of repair. “So this will help us with downtime and we’ll be able to turn jets quicker because we already know what to expect, where to go look, what we should be finding, why it occurred.”
Having a digital aircraft also means a manufacturer can be given the 3D renderings to have components built more quickly.
“In the past, all we had was the 2D digital drawings. A lot of aircraft technicians don’t know how to read these ancient, 2D manufacturer drawings anymore. This is an opportunity for us, for once, to have high-fidelity, 3D CAD drawings that can be put right into manufacturing.”
We’re reclaiming an aircraft out of the Boneyard and then tearing it all the way down, having everything scanned and built back up so you get an entire aircraft. Further, we’re taking that to do the loads analysis. We’re going to simulate it actually flying, so that we can understand the future stresses on the airframe.
Another possible use for a digitally cloned plane is virtual reality. We have only just begun to imagine a scenario where the technology can be used in regular aircraft maintenance and training.
“You can highlight it in the digital aircraft and you could pull it up on his computer and pull it up on a set of VR goggles and say ‘OK, I know exactly where I need to be,’ as you out to the aircraft he’s going to be working on. Then we can do the same thing for virtually prototyping repairs. You can do a much better test fit since the aircraft is fully represented in the digital environment. You can actually build a repair and test it, take it to get 3D printed so that our first repair is going to have a much higher level of success of actually working.”
- Digital Twins in Aerospace Industry
The aerospace industry has been using technology that is similar to Digital Twin for years now. However, it has mostly been used to develop digital models of commercial aircraft in airports and air force jets in order to find ways on how to improve the machine and achieve optimal performance.
Moreover, they’ve successfully used the tracking aspect of digital twins to track aircraft across the world in order to ensure the success of their day to day travels by heavily relying on a database.
As this technology grows and continues to evolve, more opportunities will start to present themselves that will allow aircraft engineers to be more productive in terms of executing new model tests and when it comes to the commercial aspect of flying, the final user experience will be safer than it ever was before.
Most Executives are overwhelmed by the amount of available data from products and services that they already use, and are concluding that the digital twin technology would be the stepping-stone in overcoming these challenges in the aerospace industry.
Additionally, all these executives are utilizing and evaluating the prowess of this technology. Most of them are successfully using this technology for both existing and new products and services, while others are employing it for temporary aircraft testing only.
A fully functional digital twin offers comprehensive and predictive analytics. For example, an aircraft incorporated with this technology would be able to predict future engine failures based on previous data it has accumulated. It would enable the engineers to look into the potential problem prior to any danger whether it would involve completely re-testing the airframes of an aircraft, testing its engine or doing any further security checks to ensure the safety of the people onboard.
The conventional control rooms also have various predictive analytics, but the integration of the digital twin would enhance the efficiency to deal with any danger looming around the corner. Briefly, the technology enables engineers to not only operate effectively, reducing testing costs but also to maintain and repair systems when they aren’t within physical proximity to them.
NASA faces various missions where the developing systems travel beyond the ability to track or monitor them digitally using their standard tracking systems. A well-structured digital twin of an aircraft or a rocket ship would allow for tracking with 150% more accuracy that would track the aircraft for longer proximities.
NASA is already harnessing the power of the digital twin to craft flawless blueprints, roadmaps, and next-generation vehicles and aircraft. Conclusively, it’s the principle of evolution – when everything around you changes, so must you. The digital twin is precisely the type of innovation that has made the aerospace industry evolve and adopt change.
The aerospace industry is yet to fully incorporate the digital twin interfaces to achieve better performance. Contrary to the air force and military, they’re still hesitant to fully depend on Digital Twin when it comes to some of the most crucial aspects that they must depend on such as aircraft tracking, development, and testing.
Despite all of that, there is definite progress when it comes to adopting the technology therefore, it’s only a matter of time before they develop Digital Twin for it to be mature enough for use in the aerospace industry.
- Managing Digital Twin Data
Digital twins will allow the Navy to rapidly prototype new systems, and to ensure those systems align with real-world needs. “The idea is to take the lessons learned from working with digital models and use that information to improve designs of the future fleet
For this vision to come to fruition, industry and military leadership will need to lean heavily on big data processing techniques and emerging artificial intelligence capabilities.
“It’s the organization, structuring, contextualization and analysis of data to produce actionable information and to help us make decisions. Right now, we are at a point where the generation of data is so easy and so cheap so we have take advantage of it.”
While engineers can deliver detailed digital models of complex systems, it’s the artificial intelligence that brings those models to life, allowing them to mimic the operation of real-world counterparts. “It needs the ability to think like a human, to know when something is not working right.
Digital twinning already happens in the cyber world, where virtual computing allows engineers to easily replicate entire computer networks. If a system is compromised, they need only access the master copy to replace the corrupt version with a pristine iteration.
For the military to implement a mechanical version of this – to model in exact detail a jet engine, for instance, and then make maintenance decisions based on that model – a new construct may be required.
“The technical framework is there for it. Now we need to expand leader’s comfort zone. If we’re talking about key pieces of aircraft structure, people are going to have some reservations about that. Right now, it’s about gaining trust in the technology.”
Digital twins go by many definitions. Some describe it as “a digital representation of an asset, product, or process that mirrors the behavior of its real-world counterpart, so digital twins share three elements: context and characteristic data, real-time and operational data, and an information model used to integrate the two.
Viewed as an information sharing model, the digital twin provides a “chain of logic” that connects the tools, methods and decisions used to design, build, operate and validate an asset over its lifecycle, and may include design requirements, engineering drawings, 3D models, failure mode effects analyses, simulations, validation test data and pilot production data. Since the physical asset is connected to the virtual design model, a steady stream of performance information can be relayed about the asset in the field.
“When we talk about ‘digital twins,’ the first step is to create what we call the geometric twin, which means getting the geometry right. The first thing we’re doing is taking an airframe apart, piece by piece and cleaning it all up.” The process entails removing all of the dirt, dust, grime, sealant paint and primer down to the bare material. Then, high-fidelity scanners are used to trace a template of the parts. These templates are compared to the generic drawings from which the parts were originally manufactured and may expose all of the structural failure or damage. The parts are then modeled, compared to the template and any differences are notated. Finally, the parts are digitally reassembled into a digital airframe.
“There are many things you can do once you get the geometry right, including creating a “global finite element model.” Once a load is applied to the high-fidelity engineering model, it predicts the reaction of the airframes through the entire life of the airframe, and it shows hotspots where engineers may need to inspect within a section. “For example, it allows us the abiloty to look at how long the aircraft can fly and provides engineering tools that most likely only the original equipment manufacturer had access to.”
Digital modeling solves other issues, too, like parts obsolescence. “Even if the we wanted to get spare parts we couldn’t. “The main reason is machine shops in today’s digital age don’t want to start with a two-dimensional drawing. They want to start with a 3D drawing that they can put into a CNC, or whatever machines they have, and automatically process it.”
The Air Force aims to use digital twins to evaluate competing proposals for replacing the engines on the B-52, foregoing the time-consuming process of conducting multiple competitive test flights.
While the concept of digital models is not new, but two recent advances have led to the concept’s increased acceptance and use:
- The exponential improvement in computer processing speed: “The real key comes from the fact that we have systems today that can run much faster with more memory.
- The rapid increase in available performance data to enable more accurate models.
Crunching all that data at super speed means, “We’re able to do a better and better job and able to get closer and closer fidelity to the actual performance of the system.”
Even better, virtual systems can run faster than real time, so engineers can simulate a year’s worth of wear and tear on an engine in just a few hours.
That faster-than-real ability is also the key to another new use case for digital twin technology. Teaching artificial intelligence to fly. The artificial intelligence required for autonomous or near-autonomous flight must be trained to identify and understand what’s happening around them and to create the algorithms that know what to do in every given circumstance.
“We have systems today that can run many times faster than real time so AI pilots can accumulate thousands of simulated hours within days or weeks, rather than spending months or years as a human must do.