How digital twins are revolutionising net zero in manufacturing

The following article originally featured in the Raconteur Insight ‘How tech is cutting energy waste and boosting efficiency in manufacturing.’ You can access the full report here.

Picture a Formula One car. In the days of Nigel Mansell, the engineers would build a copy – or several – of the drivers’ car to try out tweaks and changes, before recreating them on the race car. Now, in the days of Lewis Hamilton, engineers make that ‘twin’ copy in the digital realm, much like a PlayStation game. They can try adjustments on the ‘digital twin’, even re-run entire races in differing weather conditions.

Now, imagine a digital twin of your home, your workplace, your train commute, each finding efficiencies and preventing faults. This is the world of ‘digital twinning’. And we don’t have to wait for it – it already exists. Digital twins present particularly exciting opportunities on the route to net zero. “In its simplest form, a digital twin can be described as a virtual model designed to accurately reflect a physical object”, explains Adam Goves, sector lead – manufacturing and infrastructure, at IES, who specialise in decarbonising the built environment.

“Once you have that virtual model built and calibrated to accurately resemble its real-life counterpart then you can begin to model and update the digital twin via real-time data, simulations, machine learning and AI. This gives you the ability to run potentially limitless ‘what-if?’ scenarios”.

In a bid to decarbonise the built environment, IES digital twin technology is helping to lower energy consumption and meet net zero carbon targets. This offers a bottom-line boost for beleaguered C-Suites, too. According to the nPower Business Energy Tracker report of over 100 large businesses in 2023, energy is the number one risk for 64% of businesses in 2023, and a board-level concern for 91% of businesses. While the 2023 Make UK/PwC Senior Executive survey finds that 54% are adjusting business practices to reduce consumption, and 39% are planning on-site electricity generation due to rising energy bills.

Twinning is winning

Digital twins are the ideal way to scenario-test such investments, to understand for example the hot spots – or cold spots – within a building or portfolio of buildings, and pinpoint where best to invest in insulation, heat pumps or on-site renewable energy.

“This provides invaluable insights into how the buildings are performing, or will perform, at any point across their lifetimes”, explains Goves, “and can be used to simulate future design or retrofit decisions, as well as operational improvements and renewable investments.”

Numerous manufacturers including Bosch and General Electric already use digital twins in their production lines, to dry-run production schedules digitally. But, suggests Goves, the full benefits can only be realised when turning the twin outward and covering the entire building: “By measuring and modelling the buildings themselves we can identify how that affects the internal environment through areas such as solar gain, waste energy and heat loss, internal temperature fluctuation, human behavioural patterns, computational fluid dynamics and much more”.

Real-world examples include the IES-created digital twin for Jaguar Land Rover, whereby IES consultants were able to demonstrate that implementing a combination of energy efficiency measures along with a high-performance building envelope would lead to a total energy cost saving of 28.9% for the building by employing a number of low-energy design strategies.

Live data

Of course, the real world is far messier than the digital realm. What of extreme weather events, fluctuating energy costs, even work-from-home trends? This, says Goves, is where digital twin technology really comes in to its own. Rather than offering a one-off snapshot of performance, a fully calibrated and ‘live’ digital twin takes active inputs from a number of sources including Building Management Systems (BMS), heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), human occupancy, energy supply, and multiple sensors.

“Where data is missing or not available then AI, machine learning and physics-based simulation are also deployed to analyse the available information to fill in any critical gaps”, explains Goves. “It unlocks an ability to run scenario planning for potential future interventions, additions or changes.”

For businesses interested in cutting their energy costs and working towards net zero targets, a digital twin is becoming a must have. According to the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management (IWFM), just 35% of the firms believe they have access to all the emissions data they need to track progress. “We typically find an immediate 5%-plus savings in energy, cost and carbon, purely in operational efficiencies for the building itself”, says Goves, “and it is not uncommon to identify additional energy, waste, carbon and cost savings of between 10% and 30%. At the same time, the benefits renewable energy generation and local energy networking opportunities can be even higher.”

Digital twins can even cover entire cities, districts, even islands. IES created an intelligent virtual model of the Orkney island, Eday, which identified a potential 76% energy saving using retrofit measures and battery storage for wind power.

In Formula One, engineers are forever searching for marginal gains. But there’s nothing marginal about 10-70% – that’s the great leap forward needed for a net zero world.

For more information on how IES is supporting the drive to net-zero within the manufacturing sector, visit:

Read more in the Raconteur Insight report, How tech is cutting energy waste and boosting efficiency in manufacturing