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Schindler worldwide

Lessons from Mars

The application of digital twin technology is preparing Schindler for the future.

While you probably know what a ‘twin’ means, you might be less familiar with the concept of a ‘digital twin’. Two employees, Thomas Novacek and Pietro Soma, who are not twins but who do both have former associations with NASA, are heading the move toward digital twin technology here at Schindler.

The first digital twin, with its three distinct parts – the physical product, the digital/virtual product, and connections between the two – appeared in 2010.

Up to that point, digital twin had just been a concept – one that had been extensively discussed in scientific publications but never actually implemented in real life. NASA changed all that in the 2010s, as it prepared to send another exploration rover to Mars. 

Innovation born out of necessity

No mechanic was going to join the expedition, so the space agency needed to be able to diagnose and solve potential issues with its exploration Mars rover remotely. "The need for intelligence and knowledge of the digital components all the way to micro-structure led to the concept of a digital twin," Thomas explains. 

Thomas has an impressive background, having worked in the aerospace and the aeronautic industries – and he knows a thing or two about NASA. At one point in his career, he took part in a NASA design competition to develop a space-shuttle where the transporter could be reused, much like the ones we see being developed today for space tourists. 

"Aviation has shaped my life, and I’ve followed closely its many developments and how the sector has been reshaped by technology," he says, adding that he was quick to understand the transformative potential of digital technology and the need to leave comfortable traditions behind in favor of long-term improvements. 

This new cloud-based technology will allow Schindler to lead the innovative digital building blocks methodology, taking advantage of an easier integration with our customers and suppliers,

Pietro Soma, Head Product Lifecycle Management

Change is the only constant

"Merely adopting a conventional way of thinking can do a lot of harm to a business," he adds. It’s equipped with that mindset that Thomas joined Schindler 19 years ago, eager to shake up the E&E industry. When he’s not working, Thomas likes to run, paint, and, of course, read about scientific and digital topics related to organizational transformation.

 Aviation also looms large in Pietro’s career. Currently responsible for Product Lifecycle Management, Pietro had his first experience of a digital twin while working on a military jet. Pietro previously worked for Leonardo Aircraft Division, an Italy-based leader in the aerospace, defense and security sector, supporting NASA and other space agencies in their exploration efforts.

 "While IT tools and processes needed to create a digital twin is my area of expertise, it’s also my passion," he says, also admitting to enjoying golf and nature in his spare time. 

Pietro Soma
Thomas Novacek
It is the start of a digital transformation toward a new organizational model.

Thomas Novacek, Head of Value Chain Digitalization

Breaking down digital twin technology

But what is a digital twin exactly? A digital twin is simply a virtual representation of an object or system with an automatic connection between them. 

It's a bridge between the physical and digital world. Physical items are fitted with smart components that are all connected to a cloud-based system. That ‘cloud’ operates as a single source of truth, receiving and processing the data, allowing analysis and monitoring of systems to head off problems, even before they occur. 

In 2014, a research paper identified digital twin as a key technology to help industry become more efficient. In 2017, research and consulting firm Gartner listed digital twin as one of the top 10 promising technology trends. 

The two gentlemen didn’t need convincing. That same year, they started working on a digital twin within Schindler, certain that we as a company stood to benefit from it. "This new cloud-based technology will allow Schindler to lead the innovative digital building blocks methodology, taking advantage of an easier integration with our customers and suppliers," says Pietro. 

Digital transformation

Digital transformation and digital twin technology go hand in hand. "It affects all stages of the product value chain, driving behavior change toward a standard end-to-end process that is accessible to everyone, in a single source of truth," explains Thomas. 

This means product planning, research and development, supply chain, sales process, installation, and maintenance all need to be digitally transformed. How close are we to having a Schindler digital twin?

 "We have finished the front part – that is the product requirements and engineering elements, and are now moving onto the supply chain," explains Thomas. "We started off with escalators and added elevators one year later. We aligned the processes for both along the way to bring escalators and elevators into a single platform. Next, we need to do the same in the field." 

"It is the start of a digital transformation toward a new organizational model," Thomas adds.

And Pietro concludes: "Digital Twin will provide Schindler with more opportunities, based on digital simulation, to be more sustainable and more competitive, in every area of production. In an industrial context, this is the new frontier that Schindler is pioneering."