Digital twins have been in use since the 1960s. While the technology has advanced, it continues to be three-dimensional CAD models representing a real-world object in isolation.
Virtual twins are a step beyond that. They are scientifically accurate virtual models of real world objects and systems that can be submitted and tested in sophisticated virtual models of the environment they operate in.
This lets miners not only understand the model object but also observe and analyse its behaviour in different conditions and scenarios.
A virtual twin gives the ability to solve problems in four dimensions - 3D plus time. This way a change can be made and "fast forwarded" to see what impact it will have going forward.
With the use of virtual reality and augmented reality tools the problem and solutions can be communicated to teams too, which helps increase their understanding, collaboration and participation. That is a boon to mining where problems are often multidisciplinary, driven by fundamental sciences such as geology, geomechanics, chemistry and many others. They require the communication of complex solutions to groups who may not be experts in those areas.
Virtual twins can also reduce the risk of implementing new energy solutions or testing chemicals that might be able to extract metals while reducing the impact on the environment.
Dassault Systèmes vice president, energy and materials industry Thomas Grand said in other industries virtual twins had led to the faster adoption of innovations and the transformation of those industries.
"One fantastic example is the Living Heart Project, which develops and validates highly accurate personalised digital human heart models," he said.
"Another example is the application of virtual twins to optimise building construction and management, which might see them reducing the structures' operating expenses by US$288 billion by 2030 and cutting CO2-equivalent emissions by nearly 7000 metric tons.
"Perhaps one of the most sobering success stories of virtual twins is their role in the unprecedented vaccine development in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic."
Virtual twins are expected to play a much larger role in mining as pressure mounts on miners to be more energy efficient and reduce their environmental impacts.
"How energy and materials are sourced, produced and utilised is also evolving and in many ways dictating how we can live into the future," Grand said.
"Energy and materials businesses are also changing with five key trends emerging to define the industries of the future. These have to be balanced within the evolution of a business from early opportunities being identified to full operation and beyond."
Dassault Systemes' answer to this is the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform.
With the 3DEXPERIENCE platform at the core it embodies the philosophy of business transformation, next-generation mining technologies and the unifying platform needed for continuous innovation and value creation.
Dassault Systemes' 3DEXPERIENCE platform is a business experience platform.
"It is a game-change for organisations because it is the only platform that is both a system of operations to run their business and a business model to transform their business," Grand said.
"With a unified data model and unified user interface, the 3DEXPERIENCE platform has the capability to index, integrate or ingest any data type that can then be used for collaborative, modelling, simulation and analytical purposes.
"These capabilities, delivered by a mix of Dassault Systèmes brand technologies are tailored to individual users' requirements and can be integrated with existing customer systems or those of third parties to provide a faithful virtual experience in which to validate or improve existing practices and test out new strategies and ideas."
Grand said he believed the virtual world extended and improved the real world.
"In life there are no rehearsals," he said.
"In the virtual world we can simulate and evaluate impacts before taking action in the real world," he said.
"Virtual worlds help people imagine differently. We do inspire and help customers create and build a more sustainable world: cities for people; manage resources and energy for the long term; manage global and personalised health; produce locally and supply globally; and develop inspirational education and research.
"Where we have extended this vision to the mining industry the benefits are impressive. Time and money are saved, the use of energy and consumables is reduced, product quality is increased and people work in a healthier and safer environment.
"All 10 of the top 10 mining industry companies use Dassault Systèmes solutions for their digital mine and are embracing the benefits of a virtual twin experience."
For more information on digital transformation in the mining industry towards end-to-end sustainability, please download our whitepaper - Ready to Accelerate Your Greener Mining and Metals Transformation?