Digital Twins in manufacturing

 by Maaike Slot

Maaike Slot

Industry 4.0 in manufacturing is seeing our understanding of the way we create and shape the world around us transform rapidly. Because of the digitalisation steps that industry is taking, possibilities for new technologies have become visible. The digital backbone that is growing by digitalisation of industry allows us to connect data flows and information streams of the complete product life cycle, from design, production, usage in field to maintenance.

A digital twin is a virtual representation of an asset that represents its data, information, models, methods, tools and techniques. The digital twin allows you to take (real-time) data from the physical asset and create a dynamic representation that changes accordingly. This asset can be one product, multiple products but it can also entail a complete production environment, consisting out of multiple smaller digital twins. The value of a digital twin is not only captured by how well it represents and characterises its physical partner, it is also characterised by the ability to support the decisions that are made based on the information that it provides.

Upon first coming across the term digital twin, many may draw comparisons to and fall back on their understanding of what they know and are familiar with in the form of traditional CAD data used in design and manufacturing. A digital representation of the geometry of an assembly, part or system. However, a digital twin is not the same as a CAD model. Nowadays, CAD modelling software includes many functionalities to simulate and test the CAD model virtually. A digital twin, when required can incorporate these functionalities as well but is not necessarily focused on the geometry of the product or system. The digital twin incorporates real time data and has the function of representing its data and information in a contextualised and meaningful way. A CAD model could be used as a visual building block in this representation. In other words, a CAD model is an idealised snapshot in time, the to-be model of its physical asset, often with limited allowance for smart digital feedback loops. The to-be model is also called the as-designed model that is the ideal version of the physical asset. In digital twinning terms this would be called a digital master on the condition that it is connected to the digital twin and it incorporates feedback loops for learning, validation and feedback. 

A digital twin represents its physical asset(s), in real-time. Therefore, it can be said that a digital twin is an ever-evolving digital representation of one or more physical asset(s). Changing, evolving and giving feedback and input at various stages of its life cycle. Next to that a digital twin can be the basis for a digital prototype that can be used to simulate “what-if scenario’s”. Using the data and information that is available to predict and show what would happen when parameters are changed.

Most common misperception of digital twinning is that it can be used in one application field with one way of representation. A digital twin should be developed considering all stakeholders. They all require different perspectives and different insights. Consequently, a digital twin needs to provide the possibility to show the appropriate perspective and information levels to each stakeholder, providing the right information to the right person at the right moment.

Digital Twins in manufacturing

The benefits of digital twins can be realised across a whole range of areas and industries. This ranges from the design phase, through manufacturing, operations and logistics, to (predictive) maintenance.

At the conceptualisation and design stage of an asset, advanced simulation and CAD software can help with engineering and decision making. This can be achieved by the intelligent optimisation of parts and part interactions using known future process and production data.  The as- designed model and its information can be sent through to the manufacturing stages where it can be used to optimize the production efficiency using integrated and connected machines and toolsets. Because machining and processing simulations can be done before and during the production process, the number of rejected products can be reduced. Next to that, feedback loops can be setup to make changes in real time to further optimise production.

In-service representation of the digital twin offers additional advantages. It can give instant, accurate feedback and status of how a asset is performing in its environment. The goal and benefits that can be realised at this stage are numerous and almost limitless depending on the context. Examples include avoiding interruptions to system operation, virtual testing and simulation of changes in production, optimising operating efficiencies and predicting future wear or critical failure due to changes in environmental conditions. This also allows for a feedback loop to the design of the asset and optimization of future product.

Maintenance and serviceability can be enhanced with the assistance of the digital twin. The digital twin can represent complex systems and simplify the maintenance process by identifying the areas of interest for maintenance. Next to that, a notification system can alert when possible failure might occur.  It can use measured data to enhance predictive maintenance, picking up on operating parameter changes to simulate wear across time scales to again reduce downtime and failures. Furthermore, it allows for incorporation of the maintenance data into the design phase. Making the future products easier to maintain and service.

Digital Twins are developed across various industries in a range of capacities. A digital twin is a valuable addition when it is applied to a valuable (expensive or important) assets. Such as aircraft engines, production lines, wind turbines, where for example breakdown causes high impact. Through digitalization the integration of existing models and information through digital twinning has become the new standard. It allows to combine, compare and correlate the information through feedback loops that flow through the phases of the product life cycle. Therefore, digital twinning enables enhanced value capture across many domains.

For more information and to find out where a Digital Twin can give value to your Industry 4.0 manufacturing operations, contact AM Center through the link below.