How to model and implement connections between physical and virtual models for digital twin application

Haifan Jiang, Shengfeng Qin, Jianlin Fu, Jian Zhang*, Guofu Ding

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

114 Citations (Scopus)
29 Downloads (Pure)


Digital twin (DT) is a virtual mirror (representation) of a physical world or a system along its lifecycle. As for a complex discrete manufacturing system (DMS), it is a digital model for emulating or reproducing the functions or actions of a real manufacturing system by giving the system simulation information or directly driven by a real system with proper connections between the DT model and the real-world system. It is a key building block for smart factory and manufacturing under the Industry 4.0 paradigm. The key research question is how to effectively create a DT model during the design stage of a complex manufacturing system and to make it usable throughout the system's lifecycle such as the production stage. Given that there are some existing discussions on DT framework development, this paper focuses on the modeling methods for rapidly creating a virtual model and the connection implementation mechanism between a physical world production system at a workshop level and its mirrored virtual model. To reach above goals, in this paper, the discrete event system (DES) modeling theory is applied to the three-dimension DT model. First, for formally representing a manufacturing system and creating its virtual model, seven basic elements: controller, executor, processor, buffer, flowing entity, virtual service node and logistics path of a DMS have been identified and the concept of the logistics path network and the service cell is introduced to uniformly describe a manufacturing system. Second, for implementing interconnection and interaction, a new interconnection and data interaction mechanism between the physical system and its virtual model for through-life applications has been designed. With them, each service cell consists of seven elements and encapsulates input/output information and control logic. All the discrete cells are constructed and mapped onto different production-process-oriented digital manufacturing modules by integrating logical, geometric and data models. As a result, the virtual-physical connection is realized to form a DT model. The proposed virtual modeling method and the associated connection mechanism have been applied to a real-world workshop DT to demonstrate its practicality and usefulness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-51
JournalJournal of Manufacturing Systems
Issue numberPart B
Early online date2 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2021


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