What is the Difference Between a Simulation and a Digital Twin?

What is the Difference Between a Simulation and a Digital Twin?

Digital models are used in a variety of applications and development workflows. They can vary in degree in how they match a physical device. Any system component may incur different models that vary in the degree they replicate the actual component, as well as how they react and what kind of information can be associated with them. The models may have different purposes, but they may also share common descriptions such as details about dimensions, material attributes, etc. Many models will be used by multiple applications for different purposes, from showing the status of a current system to simulating a device that has yet to be constructed.
Models can be used as a digital twin (see figure) or in simulations in addition to models used to design a system. A digital twin is often used in process control and product lifecycle management (PLM) to help monitor or control a remote system. The model doesn’t necessarily need to exactly replicate the physical device. It may even be a 2D representation, but it’s typically combined with other models to provide a context for the information that can be presented or examined.

Digital twin could be used as a starting point for a simulation model that perhaps extrapolates how a system would operate in the future. The degree and accuracy of these simulations can vary depending on the implementation of the simulation and what type of results are desired.


For example, a digital twin of a gas engine could simply track material consumption, power output, and heat output, but not the actual movement of components within the engine. This level of simulation may be sufficient for checking out how a vehicle would operate when using such an engine.

Software that uses CAD designs, digital twins, and simulation models may share all of these aspects, depending on their function, although often a specific tool will create and manipulate a model. For example, a CAD drawing package may be used to create a digital model, and then a process control system would use that model as the basis for a digital twin. That software may provide the linkage between the digital twin’s sensors and controls with those in the real world. 

Likewise, a model used in a simulation may have characteristics added so that physical simulation is possible. This might include details about the virtual materials used in the model, which in turn would enable the simulation software to replicate how the model will react during the simulation.

If you would like to know more, please contact us