Digital Mockup, Model-Based Definition, Digital Thread and Digital Twin: a quick overview

digital twin

Digital Twin” has now become a buzzword in manufacturing companies. However, when I interface with professionals, consultants and experts in the field, I discover that different meanings are attributed to this term. The main reason is that many companies that are offering services related to this sector are exploiting the digital trend, as they say “they strike while the iron is hot” for marketing purposes. There is nothing wrong with all of this, but we still need to do some semantic clarity.

In this post we will describe some basic concepts that will help us once and for all to extricate ourselves in understanding what a Digital Twin actually is.

Digital Mockup

process simulation

Mostly, when we talk about Digital Twin, we often mean a Digital Mockup, that is a 3D modeling of our reference object, a mechanical component or a production system. Digital mockups were born with 3D CAD and compared to 2D solutions they offer countless advantages for those who design the product, for those who design the production cycle, for those who have to buy goods and for those who have to sell a product. In particular, a 3D replica of a production system, for example, can be visualized using virtual reality systems to make a semi-real “experience” of the factory that has been designed, consequently going to clean up the details and reduce the risks associated with the investment of often considerable capital. Finally, it is becoming increasingly common to use such virtual and / or augmented reality devices for marketing purposes.

Model-based Definition

Moel Based Definition
Figura 2: Rappresentazione del MBD. Credits: Sigmetrix

The Model-based Definition (MBD) is a methodology that basically consists in attributing all the dimensional and geometric specifications (but not only) directly to the 3D model. As a result, the table setting becomes obsolete, but this is not the main benefit. In this article 5 reasons why it is worth using this approach are listed, which are summarized below:

  • further automate production: for the programming of numerical control machines, many information normally present only on the table must be entered manually by a programmer. With an MBD, this information can be automatically read from the 3D model
  • increase the efficiency of the exchange of technical information: for particularly complex products, the items on the table sometimes become difficult to interpret
    improve product quality: for example, tolerance management can be optimized
  • represent a competitive advantage in manufacturing: there are countless advantages in its use, from the aforementioned numerical control programming to final testing through point acquisition systems
  • provide complementary support to 4.0 technologies: data can be exchanged automatically through IoT systems, analyzed using machine learning techniques, consequently increasing the level of autonomy and flexibility of processes

Digital Thread

For Digital Thread we mean the implementation of a digital information management system for the entire life cycle of a product. The MBD is the fundamental element for a digital approach during the design and production phase. However, with the Digital Thread, the benefits generated by a continuous exchange of data are also extended to the subsequent phases, namely:

  • during operation: the system is able to exchange and process data in real time
  • in the product support phase: the data exchanged allow a more efficient and timely support, and to react more quickly in case of malfunctions or system failures
  • in the decommissioning phase: from a circular economy perspective, it becomes essential to have information regarding the disposal and reuse of components

Below is a schematic representation of a Digital Thread approach according to General Electric:

Digital Thread
GE Digital Thread. Fonte: GE, slide 6 dalla presentazione “GE’s Digital Manufacturing Transformation”.

Digital Twin


And now let’s answer the question posed at the beginning: what is a Digital Twin?

A Digital Twin consists of a virtual representation of an object or a system capable of behaving, in real time, in the same way as the physical system thanks to a continuous data exchange.

Consequently, the Digital Twin may use a digital mockup (although this is not always the case), but above all an infrastructure equipped with cyber-physical systems capable of exchanging information regarding the kinematics and / or dynamics of the physical system, depending on the level of complexity to be achieved.

What are the advantages of implementing a Digital Twin? Here are a few:

  • Remote monitoring of the production system
  • Upstream analysis of scenarios
  • Decisions made on the basis of real data
  • Greater transparency
  • More flexibility

It is easy to understand how the implementation of a Digital Twin is not trivial at all and it is therefore necessary to evaluate the actual benefit and the level of complexity required on a case by case basis. In some cases, a digital twin can only be implemented to monitor a specific aspect of a factory, such as logistics. In this case, a digital mockup is not required in principle, but simply a 2D schematic representation of the factory to identify the flow of parts in real time.

Where to start?

In this short post we have highlighted the differences between Digital Mockup, Model-based Definition and Digital Thread to finally define more clearly what Digital Twin is. Therefore, depending on the specific needs of a company, it will be necessary to implement one solution rather than the other.

In this sense, Accialini Training & Consulting is able to guide the company towards the digital transformation that best suits its needs.

For more information, contact us to discuss your needs together in detail.

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Nicola was super engaging, very clear, always open to debate and willing to accept different points of view. Very helpful even outside the course hours for doubts. Positive experience. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Katia Gaspari
CAD DesignerCAD Designer, SDM tooling S.r.l.

Extremely interesting course performed by a competent and professional speaker ready for any answer for doubts and perplexities

Alberto Dalmasso
CAD DesignerCAD Designer, SDM tooling S.r.l.

Nicola is a very experienced manufacturing engineer, especially on gears. He adopted ideas from the big, trending themes like Industry 4.0, big data and automation and turned them into pragmatic solutions.

Tim Sowa
Capability Acquisition LeaderCapability Acquisition Leader, Aerospace Transmission Technologies

Profound knowledge of mechanical manufacturing for the manufacture of gears and strong skills in the organization of work and in the continuous improvement of processes.

Ezio Dadone
Gears & Special processes Business LeaderGears & Special processes Business Leader, Avio Aero - a GE Aviation Business

Nicola has an excellent background in gear manufacturing and manufacturing engineering based on hands on manufacturing engineering experience as well as management of R&T projects

Dr. Gregor Kappmeyer
FellowFellow, Rolls-Royce Deutschland