ArcGIS: Why and How to Design Digital Twins [Ultimate Guide]

ARCGIS Why and How to Design Digital Twins

Digital twins are a virtual representation of an object or system, and they’ve been around for decades. But in recent years, there’s been a surge of interest in real-time mapping technology. 

What is it about digital twins that has so many people excited? And why do we need them? We will explore why and how to design digital twins to answer these questions.  

What is a Digital Twin?

A digital twin is a virtual representation of an object or system in the physical world. The term comes from “twin” because it has many similarities to its physical counterpart. However, there are some crucial differences between designing a digital twin and creating a 3D model of a physical object or system, which means it’s not simply 3D modeling software.

3D assets are often pre-generated and static, while digital twins can change based on real-time data.

Digital Twin Mapping with ARCGIS

Digital twins are dynamic—they respond to inputs that change over time. For example, if you have two identical twin brothers, you could design one to be 13 years old and the other to be 16 years old. The fundamental difference between a 3D model and a digital twin is that the first is static while the second changes over time.

3D models are created by inputting data into the software, then generating an asset that organizations can view on a screen or device. With digital twins, it’s the opposite—you input data into a dynamic model, then generate an asset that can be viewed in real-time with 3D views or on various screens and devices.

How Do Digital Twins Work?

There are four types of computer-generated representation of reality:

  1. A physical model (ex: a scale model of a building)
  1. A virtual model (ex: 3D video games such as Minecraft, or CAD models that architects and engineers design to visualize their designs before building them. This model is sometimes called “concierge” modeling because it’s like having a 3D model as an assistant)
  1.  Virtual reality (ex: the Oculus Rift, where you feel like you’re somewhere else—in digital worlds, using virtual tools and manipulating objects in virtual space)
  1.  Augmented reality (ex: Google Glass and other types of wearable technologies that mix data and live feeds from the physical world with virtual information and images)

Digital twins combine aspects of all four types: they’re like a virtual model and a virtual reality in one. Digital twins are also dynamic—they change over time as the physical world changes. You can use digital twins to view data taken from real-world sensors, then project realistic simulations into the environment around you.

Why Use a Digital Twin?

There are many reasons to use digital twins, and some industries have already started using them extensively.

First of all, they can help you save money and resources by providing real-time data that enables you to understand how your processes work and where improvements need to be made.

For example, creating a digital twin of a piece of equipment—like a utility meter or furnace—can help you monitor that piece of equipment over time and determine when it needs maintenance or replacement. Additionally, you can optimize your equipment for maximum efficiency and reduce energy waste by monitoring your equipment in real-time.

Building managers can also use digital twins to improve safety and efficiency in an emergency. First responder GPS tracking systems require accurate maps of indoor environments. By creating a digital twin of their building layout, they can share a detailed floorplan with first responders.

Benefits of Using a Digital Twin

There are several benefits to using digital twins, but there are two main reasons why companies use them:

  1. To optimize their business and improve performance.
  2. To help with planning and design.

Companies already using digital twins include:

which industry is best to use digital twin technology
  • Oil and gas – Chevron has created a digital twin of its refineries, which are now being used by thousands of employees at hundreds of facilities.
  • Utilities – Many utility companies have created digital twin models that they now use to manage everything from power grids to water systems.
  • Manufacturing companies – Industrial companies like GE Aviation, BMW, and Airbus create digital twins for their products. For example, GE Aviation reduced the inspection time of a jet engine from 40 hours to 4 hours by creating a digital twin.

Examples of How to Use ArcGIS for Designing a Digital Twin

  1. Sensors—one way to create a digital twin is by uploading information from sensors to ArcGIS. You can then use that data to create simulations or run analyses.
  2. Custom web apps—You can also design custom web apps for your team’s specific business needs. For example, if you work in the construction industry, you can develop a web app that lets users upload 3D CAD models and view them as digital twins.
  3. APIs—You can use many APIs with ArcGIS to create, manage, share, and use digital twins. This includes the ArcGIS platform REST API, which lets you create custom apps for your team.
  4. Digital twin templates—If you’re new to GIS, you can use ArcGIS Pro to experiment with different digital twin templates.
arcgis digital twin templates

Templates include:

Active worksite – This template shows a construction site with a 2D or 3D building model that changes over time.

A digital twin of an engine – This template shows how to set up a digital twin using information from different types of sensors.

Utilities – This template shows how to use geospatial data for intelligent city planning purposes, including the location of utilities and sewer systems.

Urban development – This template shows how to set up a digital twin model of a city and then use that data to plan and design urban layouts.

Designing your own Digital Twin with ArcGIS Pro

ArcGIS Pro is the perfect tool for creating and experimenting with digital twins. You can use templates, ArcGIS Online content, and many APIs to create a digital twin that’s right for your team.

Step 1: Connect to Your Data

The first step is connecting to the location-based data you are working with—this may include spatial data, imagery, weather information, or cadastral information. This is done by connecting directly to a database or uploading files from your hard drive into ArcGIS Pro.

Step 2: Download Your Data

Once you’ve connected to your data, download it.

Step 3: Add the Data to A Web App

Before creating your digital twin, add the data to a web app. Inputting data allows other users to access and analyze your information in real-time, no matter where they are located.

Step 4: Create Your Digital Twin

With the data on a web app, you can now start building your digital twin. The first step is to add geometry to your scene by importing CAD files or 3D models. You can then create 2D and 3D views of the model, which provide users with different ways to visualize the data.

Step 5: Analyze Your Digital Twin

There are many different analyses you can perform on your replica. For example, if you work in the oil or gas industry, you can use 3D simulation to determine how a fire would spread—or other safety-related issues. You can also use simulations to create animations that show how changes to equipment will affect performance.

Step 6: Share Your Digital Twin

Once you’ve created a digital twin, you can share it with other people in your organization. Everyone will be able to view the same data in real-time and across different devices, whether they are working on-site or remotely.


When you work in today’s digital world, designing a digital twin can help your organization maintain an accurate model of its products. For many industries—including oil and gas, heavy industry, aerospace, and transportation—a digital twin has become essential for creating simulations that predict future outcomes based on past events or actions, which are then used to design future processes.

Are you interested in a safer, more efficient work environment? Maptelligent is committed to utilizing state-of-the-art indoor mapping technology; view our demonstration video, or contact us to learn more.

Rich Ziccardi

About Rich Ziccardi

Mr. Richard Ziccardi is a financial professional with over thirty years of experience in Banking, Insurance and Investments with a business focus on financial products. During his working career, Mr. Ziccardi held various roles including, but not limited to: LOB Controller, Product Manager, Chief of Staff, CAO, and Global Head of Revenue and RFP Pricing. Most recently, Mr. Ziccardi spent 19 years at Bank of New York Mellon in Asset Servicing.