Digital product identity: a new declination for the “digital twin”

The digital identity of a product could be defined as a set of distinctive attributes that refer to a physical artefact. A declination of the so-called digital twin, since the latter identifies different industrial applications.
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  • Digital Transformation

The digital identity of a product could be defined as a set of distinctive attributes that refer to a physical artefact. A declination of the so-called digital twin, since the latter identifies different industrial applications.

The main quality of a digital identity is that it can be queried and processed by a computer system. The whole process therefore allows for creating a sound and perpetual relationship between the physical and digital worlds. For example, in logistics, a unique digital code correlated to a product can allow constant tracking of the latter. Think RFID technologies or the use of machine learning and computer vision in Amazon Go supermarkets.

But this is a conceptually already widespread practice starting from the analogue era; today we demand not only an increase in the amount of information and data to be managed but also real-time sharing between company departments (at times in different countries) that deal with completely different tasks.

Starting in 2017, companies such as IBM and Honeywell began encouraging the deployment of “digital twin” industrial solutions, virtual models designed to accurately reflect a physical object. Big Blue explains that data collected from sensors on a wind turbine can be transmitted to a processing system and applied to a digital copy. “Once informed with such data, the virtual model can be used to run simulations, study performance issues and generate possible improvements, all with the goal of generating valuable information, which can then be applied to the original physical object,” IBM points out.

This explains why the concept of “digital twin” represents something different than the digital product identity suggested by Hyphen. In the first case, it is a mathematical model that simulates effects and predicts consequences based on the data received. “In the second case, it’s a kind of SPID of the product,” explains Stefano Righetti, CEO of Hyphen. “It’s a passport that includes all kinds of features and generalities of the asset as well as its contents. And, as in publishing, there is a clear separation between the content and the container to facilitate the circulation of information.”

Once a protocol has been established, identifiable regardless of the channel, the only thing left to do is to define the nodes and sub-nodes that make it up: specifically, texts, links, photos, videos, etc. “It’s like imagining a book made up of covers, table of content, chapters and every functional element for organising distinctive content,” Righetti points out. The suggestion is to have an open approach to the subject in any case, since real format standards could materialise in future.

In summary, the digital product identity is a kind of information/IT attribute that includes all the descriptive and category characteristics of a physical artefact. Obviously, it is possible to query this element and consequently manage it in predefined frameworks, with the aim of increasing company performance by reducing inefficiencies and above all redundancies.

The prerequisite for the consolidation of the digital identity is the perfect adherence of the Product Supply Chain to the Digital Supply Chain. The mutual connections between the two supply chains obviously can occur at different stages of the processes, but the substance is that the disconnect between physical and digital is not contemplated.

The dimension of time

In 1788, Turin-born Joseph-Louis Lagrange wrote in his work Mécanique Analytique that mechanics operates in a space made of four dimensions: three spatial and one temporal. Digital identity could therefore be defined as 4D as it not only records every element of a product’s physicality but also its states over time.

The temporal component thus accompanies the artefact. Conception, prototyping, sampling, inclusion in the collection and historical archives become elements related to the evolution of a product. And while maintaining a unique (and distinctive) code, the latter can recall any transition, variation and even photographic or multimedia attachment.

“You have to imagine an information lattice that structures data in a simple way and is manageable regardless of the application that generated it,” Righetti explains. “If I have access rights, I could find out the number of colours, sizes, fabrics and every other detail. Today the product code of a garment indicates very little data.”

The content factory

Any manufacturing industry is also a content producer. Every piece of information about an asset is in at least one database that is constantly queried by each department. The central theme is that regardless of the purposes (e-commerce, marketing, newsletters, etc.) the “digital passport” is required to include complete and up-to-date information, as well as to be easily accessible. Change the person making the request or the channel but the metadata is always the same. It doesn’t make sense for multiple departments to make different packages for the same data, when the entire operation can be customisable upstream.

That’s why Hyphen’s Chalco solution is all about organising multimedia assets, documents, feature sheets, 3D models and other product details and making them searchable by marketing, sales and e-commerce departments and via API (application programming interface) at any other platform or application. In short, it is a technology capable of managing Digital Asset Management and Product Information Management with a holistic approach.

The centrality of the image

“The image of a product is often more valuable than the product itself,” Righetti explains. “Sometimes all it takes is one shot to make people fall in love with an object. The importance of a proper and efficient management of all the digital material accompanying a product is therefore obvious. Because 90% of offline transactions are now based on checking something online before anyway.”

“One might assume that this sensibility directed towards an image is typical of consumers, but that’s not true at all. Just think of the 360° interactive viewers that satisfy the need for precise information of technical interlocutors, such as buyers, for instance.”

Digital identity thus becomes even more strategic as it is the only tool to govern all the information and image content available. “We need to think with a system approach: more than looking at a single phase, recognising the organic nature,” concludes Righetti.

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