The Need For Digital-Twins In Smart Manufacturing


Author - Dr. C. S S Bharathy
Founder - Fusion VR
Certified Industry 4.0 Professional

Publication - Business World
Date - February, 2021


Read From Source: Business World

A Digital-Twin (DT) is a fully functional digital instance (proxy) of a physical entity such as equipment and plant in all aspects. It digitally represents all aspects such as mechanical, electrical, process, time-historical data, etc. Digital Twin demonstrates the concept of bridging the physical & digital assets through sensors and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). These comprehensive data-driven digital models help to increase the efficiency through the whole life cycle of its physical counterpart. This digital environment with live streaming data opens up whole vistas of new possibilities for AI-based data analyses in simulated digital scenarios.

This digital proxy can talk to other proxies and form a whole network of intelligent digital eco-system with enhanced accuracy of predictive models. Findings from these predictive and prescriptive simulation models can be applied for the physical assets to deliver increased productivity in real life. These intelligent virtual assists also enable intelligent decision-making on physical operations and optimize them over the period.

In a nutshell, digital twins can be effectively deployed to improve any manufacturing process, equipment, or system which can be simply compared with how essential the Flight Simulators are for a Pilot.

Types of Digital -Twins & Uses

Let me broaden our understanding of the different types of digital twins. Though the core idea of building a Digital-Twin is enabling real-time operation monitoring and simulation of performance, there are also various other associated use cases based on the type of the DT.

  1. Basic Twins are digital representation of the physical entities through dashboards or 2D engineering diagrams that are digitally created and connected through IoT for live streaming of sensor data (here, data flows in one direction only). These simple twins can reside in the form of mobile apps, PC apps, or browser-based and used to monitor the live-status with alarm notifications.
  2. Operational Twinsare visual representation of the physical entities through engineering 3D-Computer Aided Design (CAD) models that are developed and connected through IoT for live streaming of sensor data(with bi-directional data flow). Unlike Basic Twins, the Operational Twins enable users to interact and remotely control the operating parameters of physical assets. Hence these applications are process intensive and demand a high degree of security, which naturally are PC-based apps.
  3. Intelligent Twins are digital twins powered with Data-Analytics, Ai, and ML. They are capable of predicting and forecasting the operational and maintenance insights through real-time simulations and presented through dashboards, heat-maps, and other visual means of visual representation of intelligence.
  4. Immersive Twins are believable virtual reality representations of physical assets created using 1:1 scale 3D models with realistic texturing, lighting, fluid & physics simulations for the immersive (VR/AR/MR) environments and optimized for real-time photorealistic graphics rendering.  Carefully crafted, such DT simulates the telepresence of the user with a highly immersive 360-degrees field-of-view First-Person spatial experience. When connected through IoT, these twins can assist in monitoring and controlling physical assets, though it’s not the main purpose. Immersive digital-twins are used for:
  • Virtual site visit & walkthrough by stakeholders and visitors 
  • Planning and Field scoping
  • Scenario training for emergency responses
  • Operator competency training

These immersive twins enable the transformation of the workforce by inheriting several years of knowledge and experience in an extremely short duration. Such advances improve productivity, thereby saving years of training time. It’s worth mentioning that PWC’s latest study indicates that VR training is 4 times faster and more focused compared with conventional class-based training approaches. It has been found to be 3.75 times more emotionally connected with a40% improvement in employee confidence. 

Benefits of Digital Twins

  1. Make use of existing sensors and data: The conventional use of sensor data in factories is to monitor and control the process operations. These are usually underutilized and the existing collection of data holds the entire performance history of the entity. The concept of DT exploits the fullest advantages of these invaluable assets of any organization.
  2. Efficient Product Lifecycle Management (PLM): DT provides a holistic view of operations in real-time with intelligent suggestions, which enable efficient and collaborative decision-making with different engineering groups. Since this model is based on Data-Analytics, Machine -Learning algorithms, and Artificial intelligence, the DT continues to learn and increasing its prediction accuracy over the period of experience throughout its entire lifecycle.
  3. DT Simulations vs conventional Simulations: Conventional simulations such as finite element analysis, stress analysis, etc. use digital models to imitate processes in a simulated CAD environment which in turn assists engineers during manufacturing design, performance analysis, and testing of new concepts. These results are quite theoretical and often based on complex mathematical models. On the other hand, Digital Twins take the Live-Streaming IoT data from the physical sensors available on the equipment to monitor current status and provide more accurate predictions which directly affect its physical counterpart.
  4. Better Return on Investment (ROI): DT increases efficiency during design build stages by reducing time and errors in the construction sequence. It also enables engineers to virtually commission the digital twin, learn lessons, and avoiding expensive mistakes before the actual commissioning of the physical assets.  The reliability and availability of plant machinery are enhanced with reduced downtime that is made possible through assisted production and preventive/predictive maintenance strategies. The digital twin can also be engaged in the virtual operations, maintenance, and reliability training of personnel to advance in-house expertise. These advantages effectively deliver lower overall costs and yield improved Returns on Investment (ROI).
  5. COVID-19Impact: The pandemic has made a revolutionary shift in the way we manage people, processes, and physical assets. Social distancing requirements have disabled the ability to perform work in conventional interactive ways. Enabling digital twins allows these assets to be monitored, managed, improved, or restored with minimal physical interventions that are safe and less disruptive to the organization.

The DT-Strategy Guide

The business and manufacturing environment has changed dramatically during the past year and business leaders need to make strategic shifts and move towards investing in disruptive technologies. The conventional wisdom that drives tangible investment towards upgrading machinery, improved controls and cost-cutting may not be sufficient towards achieving sustainable business growth in the future. Intangible and intelligent digital assets and intellectual property (IP) effectively deployed into manufacturing and business processes are critically important to increases all-round efficiencies and deliver businesses significant competitive advantages.

Bold strategic decision-making can happen only if CEOs and the Senior Leadership have radical thinking and end to end understanding of Industry 4.0 and DTs. They should also develop capabilities to prioritize the implementation of appropriate use cases with measurable benefits and financial returns. Mere adoption of this technology alone is insufficient. It requires using the right expertise, choosing proper use-cases, blended with imagination and pragmatism to make success a practical reality.

It is essential that clear objectives are established and identifying appropriate technologies needed to accomplish them and not work in reverse by designing products for a chosen technology. One of the biggest advantages during the development and implementation of DTs is that physical assets and the activities on the shop floor remain unaffected. This seamless adoption is a sure winner for the organization.

Typical roadmap for your First Digital-Twin

  • Involve and engage all stakeholders under the leadership of the IT Department 
  • Develop a clear charter and implementation strategy. Avoid silos! Identify and involve the right people with the right skill-sets and attitude 
  • Identify and deploy experienced expert Digital Twin partners with a strong industrial background and integrate them inside the value system. The importance and benefits of this cannot be over-emphasized. Extensive hand-holding during all phases of implementation is crucial
  • Implementing everything in one go may not be an effective strategy. Begin Piloting and implementing a phased approach with clear milestones and a step-by-step implementation plan before going Mainstream
  • Develop KPIs, track milestones, and quantify ROI through periodic reviews. Ensure familiarization and training of all stakeholder groups to maximize the success of the implementation
  • Assess and report the effectiveness of DTs and document benefits achieved in comparison with existing legacy systems in your organization
  • Build on the successes achieved and identify more challenging and rewarding opportunities for implementing DTs in other parts of your manufacturing value chain
  • Stay abreast of technological innovations and approaches in the market and meaningful changes were required to your roadmap
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