Human Digital Twin: The Digital Counterpart to the Human Worker

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two hands reaching out to touch each other as digital twins

So, here we are in 2021: The idea of digital twins is catching on among organizations who are looking for ways to improve their operations. Interestingly enough, though, there is a striking disconnect. The concept of twins is predominantly one that pertains to human beings. And yet the human factor thus far has not been represented adequately in this equation. This is even more surprising as experts assume that human workers account for 70 percent of the added value on the shop floor. Alongside this, many studies suggest that human hands will continue to play an important role in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0). It is time to build the Human Digital Twin. But how can businesses go about it?

Technology cannot fully automate a single order in a warehouse

‘Automation’, ‘Artificial Intelligence (AI)’ and ‘Digital Twin’ talk of future scenarios can be quite scary. One controversial view is that within the smart factory model, robots will take over people’s role to execute work and reduce failures and errors. There is a misconception that full automation is on the immediate horizon—that notion just isn’t realistic. End-to-end automation is hard to attain, challenging for operational reasons, and expensive. Even technology pioneers like Amazon’s Scott Anderson see it that way; and believe the technology is at least 10 years away from being able to fully automate a single order picked by a worker in a warehouse.

The effects of the COVID-19 crisis amplify this sentiment and show that humans are indispensable. Logistics and supply chains need the intervention of human dexterity, spontaneity, and the ability to work with others. These skills distinguish humans from robots. For example, U.S. retail giant Walmart recently ended its collaboration with a robotics company during the pandemic, after its employees delivered similar results to robots.

However, this does not mean there is no merit in these technologies. In fact, they can support humans and free up time for people to concentrate on more important tasks. So rather than focusing on replacing their employees, organizations need to promote human machine collaboration.

Wearables: the basis for the Human Digital Twin

There is a great deal to win including more productivity, more efficiency and worker well-being. For this to succeed, human workers need the appropriate equipment.

Wearables, such as ProGlove’s, smart glove scanners can connect humans to the Internet of Things (IoT) and provide the interface for human-machine collaboration. But that connection is not the only crucial link. Organizations will need to go beyond that by leveraging the data that human workers generate. In other words: Businesses need to contextualize the data and analyze it by means of a Human Digital Twin.

Human Digital Twin in supply chain and production environments

The Human Digital Twin is not about collecting personalized data. Instead, it relies on aggregated, anonymized troves of data to model the human workers in their environment. Therefore, the Human Digital Twin combines a virtual representation of the workers, a visualization of the shopfloor, and an industry analyst to allow for actionable insights.

The ProGlove Insight analytics platform enables this to take place because employees wear a scanner that can capture more than just the conventional barcode content. This data includes timestamps, step counts, locations, temperature readings, the total scan time and much more.

Such data also provides concrete information about hotspots, identifies obstacles, and allows workstations to be compared. The bottom line: Insight collects data, contextualizes it and derives executable recommendations for action from the bottom up. For example, if too many workers are deployed at one location or if staff are missing elsewhere at the same time.

Along those lines, human digital twins can also provide insight to organizations about the barcode quality. This turns out to be a recurring blocker as items often arrive with poor or damaged barcodes. Problematic information can be passed to the supplier, backed up by data, and rectified.

Add a bottom-up view to have the full picture

The idea of the Human Digital Twin is ultimately about adding a critical perspective to make a difference. Yet it is important to stress that while this concept works as a standalone approach, businesses can certainly integrate it into their existing systems. That way, the data extends Warehouse Management Systems (WMS), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or other enterprise applications. It adds a bottom-up view to complement the top-down perspective of the latter solutions. This provides management powerful information about how to improve operations, health, and safety. Moreover, in a world where there is talk about machines replacing humans at work, human digital twins act as advocates for employees, showing how valuable people are.

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