Cutting-edge technologies have already become an integral part of everyday processes at leading factories worldwide. The manufacturing industry strives for an enhanced level of automation and digitalization that will optimize product design and production, speed up time-to-market, and reduce expenses. Solutions like artificial intelligence, robotics, IoT, and advanced data analytics in various implementations help to pursue that goal.
Digital twins, a technology that has been at the origin of smart manufacturing, deliver enormous value to manufacturing businesses. But what is hiding behind the phrase “manufacturing digital twin” and why has it gained so much significance? Let us explain the nuances from the perspective of a digital twin development company.
The Concept of Digital Twins in Manufacturing Explained
Digital twins were first mentioned in the early 90s, got their initial public introduction in the 00s, but gained mass popularity during the last decade. The current rise in digital twin adoption has become possible due to the enhanced technology development that has made high bandwidth, interconnectivity, and artificial intelligence more affordable for the majority of businesses.
So, what is a digital twin in manufacturing? At its core, a digital twin is a virtual representation of a real-life asset, product, equipment piece, or even a whole production system. The main difference between a simple digital replica and a digital twin is the real-time updating of the latter: a digital twin is connected to a constant flow of data on the state of its physical counterpart, the impact of changing real-life conditions, etc. Thereafter, a digital twin exists on the convergence of a real physical object, its virtual visualization, and the data link established between these two entities.
Any digital twin is powered by a set of technologies, namely 3D modeling and VR/AR to visualize an object virtually, IoT sensors to gather real-time data, and artificial intelligence to process huge amounts of data obtained during digital twin operations.
Digital Twins as One of the Pillars of Smart Manufacturing
Smart manufacturing reinvents the production process, offering solutions to major downfalls of traditional approaches, namely lack of flexibility and adjustability. Smart manufacturing initiatives are powered by the introduction of automation technologies and enhanced data analytics with the goal of optimizing manufacturing performance. Considering their similarity, it is only logical that the concept of a smart manufacturing digital twin ignites so much discussion.
The practical usage of smart manufacturing allows factories and plants to closely monitor the production line at every stage of product creation, which was almost impossible with the old-school approach when any defect could be noticed only when the batch was finished. A manufacturing digital twin takes process management to a new level not only by boosting real-time monitoring but also by granting predictive capabilities. Digital twins become a perfect simulation for manufacturers to detect weak spots and test hypotheses in order to reveal optimization possibilities.
Benefits of Digital Twin in Manufacturing
The potential value of the digital twin in the manufacturing industry is vast, as it opens dozens of new opportunities for businesses to capitalize on. The versatility of the technology allows manufacturers to inspect and monitor their business on various stages and from various perspectives, which gives a huge area for improvement. We prepared a list of advantages digital twins bring.
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Digital Twin Use Cases in Manufacturing
Examples of digital twins in manufacturing are numerous and applicable to the building of different products, e.g., automotive, aerospace and aviation, pharmaceutical, consumer goods, medical devices, etc. Here are the most common ideas of how you can leverage a digital twin in smart manufacturing.
1. Predictive Maintenance
Predictive maintenance is an extremely powerful tool for manufacturers to switch to early detection of any faults, precise diagnosis, and preventing equipment downtown before it happens. The use of a digital twin for predictive maintenance in manufacturing gives a previously unapproachable level of visibility and transparency to equipment monitoring.
So how does this technology work? It all starts with IoT sensors being connected to every component of an equipment piece or system. The aforementioned sensors track each aspect of operation and record and log an incident if any of the components fail. In the course of time, the logs show a certain pattern that is later going to be used to predict future breakages and arrange maintenance accordingly.
2. Product Quality Monitoring & Testing
Digital twins change product quality assurance, reducing the financial risks of spending extra on testing. By transferring this process into the simulation, manufacturers can orchestrate different scenarios and implement changes in a reactive environment, where they are not constrained by physical limitations and aren’t dependent on physical labor or a limited budget for testing.
Some businesses evolve even further as they start to converge digital twins and metaverse and leverage their custom-built industrial virtual world to test their products more quickly and cost-efficiently. For industries like automotive, this crucially changes product testing approaches. Manufacturers don’t need to spend time and money to build physical prototypes of new vehicle models, and test drivers no longer experience any risk to their life and health.
3. Production System Design Optimization
A digital twin example in manufacturing can go beyond a point solution solely engaging a product or a separate equipment piece. Manufacturers can simulate a whole production system, namely a production line, to assess and test a certain layout for its efficiency. This way, you can detect bottlenecks and risks before actually setting up new lines and redesign them accordingly, ensuring that the most efficient option will be implemented.
At the same time, you can use the same approach to optimizing systems and processes on-site (warehouse design) and outside the factory (supply and delivery chains). Digital twins allow manufacturers to simulate any process they want to inspect, significantly increasing the amount of available data applicable for optimization.
4. Asset Lifecycle Management
A digital twin created for a certain asset stays relevant for its entire lifecycle, from initial production to final release to the world. Moreover, some manufacturers, namely developers of vehicles and heavy machinery, don’t stop there and keep tracking the product even after it is sold to the end-point user to provide adequate maintenance and support.
There is another significant, but not as obvious, advantage. As you can see, digital twins and data access are inextricably linked. For manufacturers that are constantly fighting with data loss, digital twins become a guarantee of asset data being preserved, organized, and available at any point in time.
5. Safety Enhancing
One of the underused implementation cases is leveraging digital twins to improve safety on-site. The never-stopping equipment and environment monitoring, when used right, can reduce the chance of accidents happening and protect workers from getting injuries.
Such a result is possible due to several outcomes generated by digital twins' implementation. First, enhanced tracking and visualization of assets allow for detecting issues remotely, decreasing the interactions between workers and faulty equipment. Second, predictive maintenance reduces breakages and increases equipment efficiency, which also minimizes crew exposure to hazardous conditions.
How Top Manufacturers Leverage Digital Twins in Their Practice
Nowadays, digital twins are no more just a promising but unrealistic concept but a real-life solution a lot of companies have already implemented in their work. Here are some most interesting cases of how top manufacturers apply the technology.
It is no wonder that Tesla, one of the most innovative automotive manufacturers, has been using digital twins for quite some time. It is reported that every Tesla vehicle has its own digital twin powered by IoT sensors. They constantly gather data on the vehicle’s state to predict when a breakage can happen. This way, the company manages to decrease expenses on serving cars on warranty and provide a better customer experience to Tesla’s owners.
This world leader in consumer goods production leverages digital twins to create virtual copies of their factories and gain better visibility and control over the processes, equipment, and products. The mass implementation of the digital twins allowed the enterprise to access a lot of game-changing advantages, for example, optimization of time required for batch production, automation of repetitive manual tasks, improvement of products’ quality etc.
The Boeing team uses digital twins for aircraft designing, as they power up the simulation with the data related to the performance of various plane parts over their lifecycle. This allows engineers to predict when components may fail and make necessary improvements to increase the quality. At the same time, the company also applies digital twins to determine a perfect cargo load balance and understand the true capacities of a certain aircraft.
Kaeser, a German manufacturer of compressed air products, leveraged digital twins to adopt an as-a-service business model instead of simply selling their products to users. Digital twins allow the company to get data on air consumption rates and charge users accordingly, simultaneously tracking the state of the equipment and implementing predictive maintenance measures to prevent failures.
Build Your Digital Twin for Manufacturing with Program-Ace
The variety of digital twin manufacturing examples proves the versatility and practicability of the technology. In a world where the competition is constantly growing and more businesses are choosing to utilize advanced technologies, digital twins can give a boost to your manufacturing business and offer solutions to the issues that prevent your scaling.
However, digital twin implementation can only make a difference when done right. Program-Ace, a leading custom software development company, knows how to apply digital twin technology and extract maximum value from it for manufacturing businesses. Feel free to contact us for details and discuss what opportunities our cooperation can bring to your company.