In recent years, interest in the technology of digital twins, i.e. digital representations of physical objects, processes or even entire systems, has skyrocketed worldwide. Their role in the largest supply chains seems to be becoming more and more important, while the new perspectives for their use are a topic of discussion in all the meetings of the modern industrial giants. The phenomenon of their rise has been commented on by many decision-makers. Characteristic are the statements of Matt Tichon, VP at Llamasoft who specializes in industrial strategy issues.
Tichon emphasizes that in today’s environment of international business competitiveness, leveraging digital twins is now integral to all stages of a supply chain. As he notes, this is a technology that allows manufacturing companies to reproduce and analyze their production footprint as a whole, easily identifying the elements that hinder their quick and efficient operation. For example, if a company has a sudden shortage of a raw material, it is now able to accurately estimate the impact it will have on all stages of production. With this knowledge, it is able to prepare for any future adversity without falling behind its competitors.
Digital Twins provide the ability to evaluate multiple solutions to technical challenges and identify the optimal solution for a company’s needs. For example, if there is a shortage of a raw material, a company can assess its alternatives for secondary sources of supply, considering the cost, service quality, and recovery potential impact on its resources.
By utilizing this approach, organizations can mitigate the impact of unforeseen issues by anticipating the effect their decisions will have on their financial margins and customer usage rates. Having pre-determined primary and secondary sources of raw materials readily available can effectively address most emergency situations. In a business environment where adversity and unexpected events are a common occurrence, the wise implementation of new technology is not just advisable, but imperative.
Boeing, the American aviation giant, is already using digital twin technology in the design of its new aircraft. Each new model is accompanied by a detailed digital replica, which helps to achieve correct predictions and successful simulations for all parameters of its operation, throughout its lifetime. This results in the company’s engineers being able to predict if and when a mechanical failure may occur, taking the necessary measures.
How is the term used?
By the term “digital twin” we refer to the electronic representation of a physical element. This means that data from sensors in the real world can be applied to develop simulations with thousands of possible outcomes and design adaptation ideas of physical elements. Thus, a digital twin is essentially a technology that allows manufacturing companies to virtually test different scenarios at the stage of production and use of their products and services, with the aim of improving their reliability and efficiency.
3D modeling, a field that has been greatly enhanced by the occasion and the specific technology, can ensure all the conditions for successful virtual simulations in different environments with the minimization of costs on the part of the parties involved. Diagnostic tests, technical monitoring and prognostic evaluations benefit to an unlimited extent. Correspondingly, the overall experience of the public is noticeably improved and a company’s stakeholders gain better know-how and contact with the services offered, proposing innovative solutions for existing and planned products.
One of the reasons global industry is increasingly adopting digital twins technology is because it enables continuous learning and adaptation to new requirements, while helping manufacturers to avoid unpleasant surprises by enabling valid predictions for the near-term future. When this technology is combined with data analytics, it can provide insights that highlight hidden value in products and services. For example, the engineers of an industrial department have access to information regarding the malfunction of the manufactured products connected through IoT technology, preventing unexpected interruptions in the operation of the machines in time and improving the performance and compatibility between them.
Also, digital twins contribute to solving problems throughout the value chain of each product, eliminating the lack of coordination and transparency in the processes included in the supply chain, as well as phenomena of insufficient interdepartmental cooperation and decision-making. An important feature of them is the synchronization of information in real time with the current operation of the involved devices and equipment in general. This results in the more harmonious operation of the systems, but also the more realistic design of new innovative devices and operating systems.
Unilever has also introduced new technology to much of its manufacturing operations. As an organization it now has eight separate collaborating facilities within a common extended network, which use digital twin technology in concert and in seamless communication with each other. The decisive use of new technology aims to optimize the overall performance of its services. To achieve this, data from IoT technology systems is fed into a digital copy of each installation, while specific algorithms analyze the actions of all interconnected devices, the import and export of products, as well as the defective parameters in the production line.
Practical applications in the manufacturing industry
Overall, digital twins offer a range of benefits to the manufacturing industry, including improved efficiency, reduced downtime, increased production speed and reduced costs.
Andrew Wright, a partner at the multinational Deloitte, has stated that digital twins enable industrial enterprises to optimize their product inventory and production capabilities, which allows them to run many and extensive digital simulations by constantly testing and arriving at the ideal production cycle before their products enter the production line. According to Wright, digital twins allow a business to create a digital copy of the physical world.
Moreover, and as we go through the era of Industry 4.0, Enno de Boer, permanent partner at the American consulting firm McKinsey has repeatedly emphasized that technological innovations such as 3D printing and digital twins have already completely changed the landscape in the field of global industry.
Some practical applications of digital twins in the manufacturing industry include:
- Predictive maintenance – Digital twins can be used to monitor the performance of machines and predict when they are likely to fail, allowing for proactive maintenance to be scheduled before any downtime occurs.
- Supply chain optimization – Digital twins can be used to model and optimize the entire supply chain, from raw materials to finished products, helping to identify bottlenecks and improve efficiency.
- Quality control – Digital twins can be used to simulate the manufacturing process and identify potential quality control issues before they occur, helping to ensure that products meet customer specifications.
- Design optimization – Digital twins can be used to optimize the design of new products, testing multiple prototypes and identifying the best design for each application.
- Virtual commissioning – Digital twins can be used to commission new machines and systems before they are installed on the production floor, reducing the time and cost required for physical testing.
An alternative view on practical examples of digital twins applications
The field of engineering has repeatedly used digital twins to create virtual representations in product development. The digital twin usually predates the physical product and aims for its ideal design before it goes on the production line. In fact, with IoT technology it is now possible to receive real-time data from products that are in the early stages of production, with the result that their digital twins contribute significantly to their on-the-spot improvement and upgrade before their first use.
As consumers increasingly demand personalized products that respond to their personal needs, with the use of digital twins rapid design adaptation is possible without noticeable losses in time and operating costs. In the past, construction companies were constantly faced with the problem of a balanced communication with customers, effectively listening to their suggestions and objections. Digital twins optimize this parameter and have already led to the enrichment of product usage data and personalized customizations per customer.
Digital twins allow companies to draw robust conclusions regarding the products they wish to produce. Ideally, companies always want to have at their disposal a unified set of data in a central digital base, which ensures a common perspective on the expectations and functionality of products from the parties involved. However, the combination of such a base with computing networks based on a permanent working memory, offers the possibility of very fast analysis and visualization of all data. In addition, it becomes possible to qualitatively compare different devices or systems of related use, resulting in the optimization of the various models with a view to their easy and practical use.
Different individual functions
The enhancement of individual product functions is one of the prominent applications of the new technology. Companies are asked to first develop virtual representations of their products by composing a simplified visualization of each model. They are then able to record a large amount of data using sensors built into the product, which provides a clear picture of its actual performance and operating conditions. In the same way of thinking, companies can then simulate the actual conditions of use of a product by upgrading their maintenance services as well.
What does the future hold?
Digital twin technology and advanced analysis methods can play a key role in optimizing machine performance, as well as detecting and addressing issues in production. For instance, it can be utilized for routine maintenance, improving machine efficiency and catching faults early on. This in turn can drive the implementation of more advanced algorithms across facilities. With the advancements in additive manufacturing, digital twins are poised to bring about a major transformation in the design and testing phase of new products.
In the near future, digital twins are expected to become a staple tool in various industries, particularly among manufacturing companies. This innovative technology provides real-time answers to previously unanswerable questions, presenting a wealth of valuable solutions that were once unimaginable. With the potential of revolutionizing the product development and testing process, digital twins are expected to be a part of every product’s life cycle, continuously being upgraded to meet the evolving needs of consumers.