Digital twin technology

Digital twin technology is an advanced way to add digital representations of physical entities, systems, or processes. Learn more about digital twins from Autodesk.

A composite illustration of a building digital twin shows numerous systems.

A composite illustration of a digital twin helps experts build smarter.

What is a digital twin?

A digital twin is a virtual representation of a physical object, system, or environment. With up-to-date data bundled in one place, a digital twin evolves with the flow of information from sensors, building information models, IoT objects, and more.

Autodesk software collections help architects, engineers, builders, product designers, and manufacturing teams leverage the power of digital twins to save time and money while planning and building smarter, more sustainable products and buildings and developing climate-resilient energy systems and infrastructure.

A woman views a digital twin of a structure on a tablet.

This expert can access a digital twin on her tablet as a dynamic source of intelligence.

How do digital twins work?

Digital twins bridge the physical and digital worlds by sending bidirectional data between the software systems and interfaces that connect them. They are “living,” graphically rendered models that can track, predict, and adapt to changes in occupancy, energy use, HVAC and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) systems, temperature, light, air quality, and other dynamic conditions.

Autodesk Tandem and industry software packages, such as the Architecture, Engineering and Construction Collection and Product Design and Manufacturing Collection, can create high-fidelity 3D building, infrastructure, product design, and factory layout models that form a spatial foundation and data repository for digital twins.

Through cloud-enabled integrations that bring together real-time sensor data, AI, machine learning, and advanced simulations, digital twins can remotely monitor and control assets, accelerate design generation, adapt to environmental changes, and connect multidisciplinary project teams through a single, dynamic source of intelligence.

Digital twins by industry

A factory worker views a digital twin of a machine.

Design and manufacturing

In manufacturing, digital twins are used to test the quality and performance of parts and assemblies, manage supply chains, automate fabrication processes, and ensure factories operate safety and efficiently—all of which contribute to better, more collaborative decision making; fewer errors and bottlenecks; and increased return on investment.

A building illustration shows its digital twin.

Architecture, engineering and construction

In AEC, digital twins are used to create highly accurate 3D models; test and validate the performance of simulated or actual buildings or infrastructure projects; gather and analyze sensor and IoT data; conduct remote maintenance inspections; and create smarter buildings, rooms, and infrastructure that deliver value across a project’s lifecycle.

Benefits of digital twins

Digital twins provide benefits at all stages of a product or building’s lifecycle, leading to greater investment returns, more sustainable assets, and improved satisfaction among customers and end users.

Project coordination

Digital twins provide a common source of reliable information where thousands of documents, high-fidelity models, and product assets from teams across disciplines can be shared and accessed in real time to improve collaboration, reduce design errors and omissions, and prevent costly system clashes and construction delays.


Design optimization

Through digital twin simulations, designers can explore and test various design scenarios, such as the seismic tolerance of a bridge or railway, the crash resiliency of a car or e-bike, or the accessibility of medical devices in a patient care room without the need for manual iterations or multiple physical prototypes. The end result: faster innovation and more sustainable, user-friendly designs.


Operational efficiency

In occupied buildings and metered energy grids, owners and asset managers can use digital twins to receive scheduled maintenance alerts and optimize asset performance through the cloud-connected automation of intelligent occupancy-detection, HVAC, lighting, battery charging, demand response, and water systems.


Time and cost savings

The Center for Integrating Facility Engineering at Stanford University estimates the use of digital twins contributes up to a 40% decrease in non-budgeted change orders, a 9%  reduction in lifecycle operational costs, a 7% faster project delivery time, and 3.5% higher building occupancy rate.


Future-proofing and sustainability

Digital twins are used to predict the future behavior and performance of built systems, which are often equipped with connected sensors that can gather environmental data, test whether devices are operating within acceptable ranges, and automatically adjust output to reduce energy consumption and the carbon footprint of projects.


Digital twin features

Autodesk software supports the creation and management of digital twins with advanced data analysis and simulation tools that can be synced with third-party applications to extend their capabilities.

Onscreen computer data is reflected in a man's glasses.

Real-time data analytics

By 2030, there will be an estimated 29 billion connected IoT devices. Through cloud integrations and wifi-enabled communication protocols, sensor data can be migrated to Autodesk applications such as Revit, which models the structural environment to display localized, real-time data visualizations of temperature, humidity, light levels, energy use, biometrics, air quality, occupancy, and more.

A woman analyzes data on a computer screen.

Predictive analytics

With real-time sensor data and predictive recommendations through machine learning and artificial intelligence, maintenance and operations teams can repair or upgrade aging or malfunctioning systems before they become hazardous or prohibitively costly to fix. Clash-detection and coordination software in building information modeling tools such as Navisworks and the Autodesk Construction Cloud help forecast interference issues before construction begins, saving time onsite and in rework.


A MEP system is simulated in a digital twin.

Simulation capabilities

Data-rich simulations offered in InfoWorks ICM, Infraworks, and Civil 3D help architects and engineers develop flood resiliency plans; model renewable energy mobility networks; and develop strategies for minimizing material waste, energy consumption, and carbon emissions. For manufacturers and fabricators, tools like Autodesk Fusion enable rapid digital prototyping, allowing project teams to see how their products perform under stress while incorporating customer feedback into the design process. 


A man looks at a floating digital machine model.

Interoperability and scalability

Autodesk collections are designed as federated, cloud-enabled systems that can be fluidly integrated with other proprietary software and linked to sensor systems, supply chain models, customer platforms, and service delivery systems. By 2024, an estimated 50% of manufacturers will connect related products and assets in integrated digital twin ecosystems, making such interoperability essential to satisfy customers and execute at speed and scale.


A man and woman view a computer-generated digital twin.

By exploring this multi-dimensional digital twin, these experts can ensure data continuity between project phases and predict system failures before they happen.

Why are digital twins important?

Digital twins are not just a toolset; they are a window into a project at all stages of design, development, and use. In AEC, digital twins provide the means to transform the built asset lifecycle by enabling data continuity between project phases. A digital twin gives a multi-dimensional view of how a facility or asset is designed, built, and is performing throughout its lifecycle. As the digital replica is enriched with operational building data, it becomes possible to predict system failures before they happen, perform “what-if” simulations, and provide rich insights into the operation, performance, and utilization of the built asset. The accumulated knowledge can be used to plan future projects and improve design decisions, leading to more sustainable buildings and infrastructure.


But digital twins have applications far beyond buildings. Automotive companies use digital twins to prototype, test, and iterate virtual race car concepts. City planners use digital twins to create hydrographs that simulate and mitigate the effects of super-storm floods on storm drains, streetscapes, and surrounding watersheds. Product manufacturers apply digital twins to perform remote inspections and validate designs with customers. The British Antarctic Survey and its partners are using a digital twin to design carbon-informed climate research facilities in Antarctica, saving an estimated 700 tons of whole-life carbon emissions so far. 


While digital twins began as space flight simulation technology developed by NASA in the 1960s, the emergence of cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and IoT have rapidly expanded their functions and capabilities. By helping teams visualize how data-rich systems perform and serving as shared sources of truth, digital twins have been shown to cut costs; lower energy consumption and carbon emissions; and improve product quality, delivery speed, and operational efficiency.

Digital twin use cases

Digital twins have applications across industries and project cycles, from predictive analysis to design prototyping, workflow coordination, quality control, and operational management.

A man works inside an x-ray cabin.


Fusion 360 Manage ensures quality control and drives product innovation

VisiConsult, a manufacturer of X-ray and computer tomography inspections systems, uses AI-driven digital twins to remotely conduct quality-control evaluations and invites customers into simulated tests of virtual X-ray cabins so devices will accommodate their needs while moving rapidly to market. 


A computer screen shows a virtual building model.


Modeling the effects of architectural interiors on real-time human behavior

In an innovative proof of concept, the architectural and engineering firm Gresham Smith is using a digital twin to fuse ambient environmental data—such as temperature, humidity, and light levels—with human heart rate and location data, drawing insights on how interior environments affect human movement and stress levels. 


Boxes move along a factory conveyor belt.


Interactive models boost factory performance

Moicon created its dynamic 3D representation of the sensor-rich factory floor of food product manufacturer Holmen Crisp with the support of APS, resulting in an intuitive, highly automated digital twin that has improved performance by 20%, reduced machine downtime, and lowered maintenance costs.


A photograph shows the exterior of a manufacturing center in the evening.


BIM-modeled digital twin accelerates construction

To create a digital twin for the Hong Kong Advanced Manufacturing Centre, Gammon Construction developed 3D BIM models using Revit and Navisworks, which have helped the firm coordinate workflows among trades, uncover safety risks, and expedite the prefabrication and delivery of crucial structures.


Image courtesy of Gammon Construction

Digital twin resources

Learn about Autodesk Tandem, a digital twin platform designed to deliver smarter buildings and operational efficiency.


Explore how digital twins evolved from space simulation technology developed by NASA in the 1960s to tools with wide-ranging uses in architecture, engineering, and construction.


Discover how real-time digital twins are sharpening the value proposition among building owners and how AEC firms will be the digital twin service providers of tomorrow.


Frequently asked questions (FAQ) on digital twins

How are digital twins used in manufacturing?

At early stages of product development, industrial designers use digital twins to rapidly prototype and test the performance, safety tolerances, and customer appeal of various design approaches. This eliminates the need for manually prepared design revisions and expensive physical prototypes. On the factory floor, IoT sensor data, connected to automated equipment and displayed in a 3D digital replica, can conduct remote inspections, help diagnose and debug faulty equipment, and provide continuous insight into front-line operations.

How are digital twins used in architecture, engineering, and construction?

Architects and engineers use digital twins to explore and test design scenarios and choose optimal solutions prior to construction. By identifying potential safety issues and optimizing designs for selected outcomes, such as energy conservation, they can deliver smarter buildings. With access to a single, dynamic data set, AEC teams and owners can make informed decisions that maximize the performance of their assets, while builders can use digital twins to expedite workflows and ensure as-built conditions reflect design plans. Once assets are operational, owners can use digital twin data from HVAC and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems and IoT sensors to monitor and improve performance.

Who benefits most from digital twin technology?

There are many winners among teams that use digital twins. Owners enjoy the benefit of smarter buildings and greater ROI. Managers get the advantage of transparent, up-to-date system records and clearer, often automated, maintenance protocols. AEC firms can offer more services and value to clients, potentially winning more business. Manufacturers can cut costs and production time and collaborate with their customers to steer the direction of their products. Executive and factory supervisors see more rapid, efficient production from their capital assets.

What are the challenges in implementing digital twins?

There are still significant obstacles to implementing digital twins at scale, including the incompatibility of certain software platforms, file formats, and communication protocols; the challenge of creating inclusive, future-facing data structures; and the difficulty bridging open and closed IT systems. Some teams have also reported difficulties accessing, calibrating, and maintaining sensors dispersed across large-scale assets.

How do digital twins relate to the Internet of Things (IoT)?

Internet of Things (IoT) technologies make it possible to livestream data from sensors and systems in the physical world to a digital twin, where the information can live and be analyzed by facilities managers or interpreted by artificial intelligence algorithms. In a bidirectional process, signals received from IoT devices can then be “sent back” to the physical world to adapt the output of HVAC and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) systems, trigger alarms of emergency alerts, and identify when systems need to be repaired.

Are digital twins secure?

Yes, with proper risk management. As data is shared widely among teams, encrypting sensitive information and clearly defining user roles and access privileges are  crucial to minimize security risks.

What is the future of digital twins?

Digital twins are likely to evolve from conceptual tools to scalable, interoperable platforms that support the design, delivery, and operation of smart buildings, products, and cities. The emergence of cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and IoT have already expanded the capabilities of digital twins and will likely continue to do so.

Many progressive cities are getting onboard: The market for digital twin–supported solutions in smart cities is projected to reach $3.77 billion by 2026, and ABI Research predicts there will be more than 500 smart-city digital twins by 2025.

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