Research company Gartner predicts that half of large industrial companies will be using digital twins to improve productivityby 2021. Digital twin technology is not a new concept—manufacturers have created 3D renderings of computer-aided design(CAD) models for years, for asset management and prototyping.However, the increasing availability and affordability of technologies such as Internet of Things (Io T) enabled devices, data interpretation software and bandwidth mean that more manufacturerscan use digital twins to improve their processes.
Digital twins are virtual versions of a real object, which couldbe a building or network of buildings, a product or system oreven a city. IoT sensors instantly transmit data froman object to the digital twin,giving manufacturers an accurate representation of theasset that will adapt depending on what happens on thefactory floor.
Cost is often a challengefor smaller manufacturersthat want to digitalize theirprocesses because most technologies, particularly digitaltwins, require an up-to-dateIT infrastructure that not allfacilities can afford. Regardless of the cost, all manufacturing businesses shouldlearn about this emergingtechnology to prepare forwhen it disrupts the industryin the near future.
Smaller manufacturersshould start small and scaleup as they begin to see theadvantages of the technology. For example, the businesscan implement a digital twinto monitor the performanceof a single part in an asset,introduce more models of individual parts later, and thenbring them together to builda twin that monitors an entiremachine or system.
The information modeled in a digital twin could include condition data, such as pressure, temperature or vibration, operationalstatus whether it’s online or offline and the device’s context, suchas location in the facility and its relationship to other devices orsystems.
Knowing the preferred outcome of using a digital twin will alsohelp manufacturers to understand what other information to inputinto the system. For example, if the business wants to understandhow to improve product quality and customer service, they caninvolve data from the sales and marketing team to simulate how anew product will create new opportunities.
“Sharing our likes and dislikes has become second nature and
businesses do all they can for a good customer satisfaction rating.
Combined with data-driven, hyper-personalized marketing and
persuasive technologies, companies now have the power to really
move customers: to directly read and influence their emotions and
state of mind,” explains Thijs Pepping, trend analyst at Capgem-
ini’s VINT, the Sogeti Research Institute for the Analysis of New
Technology. “And the frontrunners are already creating psycho-
logical profiles and digital twins of their users.”
Including data about a machine, such as product details, tech-
nical specifications and warranty status can help manufacturers
using a digital twin to improve maintenance. With this information
and data about machine condition collected by the twin, engineers
can tailor maintenance and repairs based on actual usage of the
asset, instead of estimating when the asset requires maintenance
based on its lifespan. An increased awareness of machine condi-
tion can also reduce unplanned downtime as plant managers can
source a replacement before the machine breaks down.
Manufacturers should prioritize cybersecurity when implementing a digital twin, because it will store valuable data thatcould be used to harm the business. Manufacturers should determine who will have access to the simulation, ensuring that onlythe necessary people can gain information or control of the asset.Considering cybersecurity during the design phase and clearlymanaging the type of information collected, where it is stored andwho has access to it will reduce the risk of security breaches oncethe twin is implemented.
Digital twin technology can help a business to digitalize its processes and understand how asset management can improve maintenance, productivity, customer satisfaction and more. I suspectthat Gartner might be underestimating the percentage of industrialcompanies using digital twins by 2021. For an industry brought upon CAD, it could easily become as much second nature as sharingour likes and dislikes. MH&L
Jonathan Wilkins is director at industrial automation partssupplier EU Automation ( www.euautomation.com).
HOW TO BUILDA DIGITAL TWIN
Digital twin technology can helpcompanies improve asset management,maintenance, productivity and customersatisfaction.
By Jonathan Wilkins
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