Digital Twins: Raise your manufacturing to the next level

Drivers like innovation, competition and customer demands oblige industries to continuously evolve in the areas of products, processes and organisations. In the manufacturing industry, this is accompanied by increasing complexity, shortening lifecycles and evolving characteristics of product and production lifecycle processes.
Combined with digital advancements, it results in a tremendous increase in the amount, richness and fidelity of information, both of physical and virtual products. The dramatic advances in virtual product representation and digital data of physical products create the basis for manufacturing with a digital twin.

What is a digital twin?

The concept of a digital twin thrives to integrate the virtual environment of manufacturing with their physical counterparts. Thus, it enables a continuous data exchange between the physical and virtual space. This exchange provides an instantaneous & simultaneous perspective of manufacturing, which in turn improves productivity, uniformity of production and quality.

A digital twin is a set of virtual information constructs that mimics the structure, context and behaviour of an individual/ unique physical asset, is dynamically updated with data from it’s physical twin throughout its lifecycle and informs decisions that realize value.”                                       

– AIAA Institute Position Paper, 2020

Accordingly, the model of a digital twin contains three main parts:

  1. Physical products in real space
  2. Virtual products in virtual space
  3. The connection of data and information that ties the virtual and real products together

The virtual space with the virtual product is created first in the form of product design data, which serves as the digital twin prototype. After the manufacturing phase starts, the prototype will match up with the physical product and thus create the digital twin instance (Grieves 2016). As the physical product changes, you will be able to reflect on those changes through the digital twin. Because of that, the digital twin will help you make good decisions, for example by improving the efficiency of your design or showing potentials for saving resources. To receive the necessary data, the factory needs to be equipped with sensors, that provide real-time data on what is happening. Building up this kind of sensory structure will let you create a virtual factory replication.

What is a virtual factory?

A virtual factory is an integrated simulation model of all major subsystems in the factory, considering the factory as a whole and providing advanced decision support capability. It comprises several different software tools and technologies, including simulation and VR (Bilberg, Moller, Yildiz 2020).
The virtual factory allows for continuous improvement cycles, showing what was supposed to happen in the production process und matching it to the reality of things. Thus, it can be of detrimental help when identifying problem areas. The original simulation of the production process, as it is part of the digital twin prototype, can be later repurposed to track predictions. The virtual factory can be seen as a virtual overhead office, allowing any executive to see what is happening on the production floors at any point in time and from any place. This real-time visualization enables quicker decision-making and overall better quality of data. Furthermore, the collected data from the machines can be merged into your manufacturing execution system.

How a digital twin improves manufacturing

The digital twin can close the gap between product engineering and manufacturing and create a loop of continuous improvement. With it, manufacturers can see what is happening on the factory floor and reflect it into the digital twin. This means that manufacturing models are not purely simulations anymore, but they can now be based on real date. Therefore, it is possible to effectively compare the expected results of simulations to what happens in reality. Based on historical data, you can then also create more accurate predictions for new products.  

Use Cases for a Digital Twin

  1. Conceptualization

The digital twin allows you to assess real-time data as a basis for making solid decisions. Thus, it can help with improving your product and optimizing your production plans. Furthermore, it let’s you create more accurate predictions and line them up with the reality. Additionally, it can provide an amazing way of identifying problem areas and potentials for improvement in your production overall.

2. Comparison

Secondly, a digital twin lets you see the similarities and differences between the ideal state of your production and the actual state. Therefore, you can effectively compare where you are now and where you want to be and decide on the next steps to take, to get closer to your goal. Not knowing enough about the current situation is usually a big reason for faulty decision, so a digital twin can help preventing those and keep you on the right track.

3. Collaboration

Lastly, digital twins are a great way to use the collective knowledge of all your employees from different departments. Since the digital twin provides an accurate replica of your actual factory, many people can view what is happening at the same time, without having to be physically present. Having multiple perspectives to judge a situation allows for more efficient solutions and better optimization. Furthermore, if problems occur, people can help each other a lot faster without needing to travel.

Potentials for Your Company

Scaling of Business: digital twins and their simulation qualities can allow you the explore new business models and offer new services to your customers.

Cost Reduction: with the help of accurate simulations and predictions, you will achieve shorter development cycles, while also saving costs on creating prototypes. Furthermore, the digital twin will offer you useful field-data to improve your product to make it more cost-effective.  

Improvement of Quality: connected to the previous point, the data of the digital twin will help you improve your product and thus also it’s quality. It let’s you engage in proactive decision-making and predictive maintenance measures. The data it provides creates a basis for quality and condition monitoring.  

High Data Transparency: with the digital twin, you gain access to real-time data as well as historical data. Not only that, but it also let’s you combine data of the digital product with the real product, resulting in overall better data analysis capabilities.

Better Collaboration: As already mentioned, the digital twin allows employees to access data independently from their location. It acts as an end-to-end connector and enables a better traceability of products. 

How you can start implementing a digital twin in Your Company

There are several factors for a successful implementation of a digital twin in your company.
First of all, the change to implementing a digital twin always begins in the company culture. Therefore, it is important to apply change management and break the old structure through new cross-functionality teams. This should go hand-in-hand with transparent communication and information sharing with all your employees.
Secondly, the right strategy needs to be established and applied. This means, defining your vision and goal and receiving the management’s buy-in. In some cases, it can also be helpful to form strategic partnerships with other companies or parties of interest.

As a next step, you should tackle the processes that need to be implemented to reach your strategic goal. This includes defining exact use cases and acting in an agile way. It is helpful to develop early prototypes and start by slowly anchoring the digital twin in the established processes.
Lastly and unsurprisingly, technology plays a big role in the implementation of a digital twin. It is necessary to create a digital ecosystem, that is capable of managing the real-time data you will receive. Not only should you ensure the continuous connection of datapoints, but it is just as important to take care of data safety and integrity.

To put it in a nutshell, digital twins offer a multitude of potentials for manufacturers and are becoming more and more common. Have you already built a digital twin for your company or are you considering it?

We think this new wave of digital manufacturing is the future and the best way to deal with the ever-changing way of the market. This is why we ourselves develop a software solution to enable manufactures the digitalisation of their business, providing handy and effortless ways to handle customer management, supply chain setup & management (we like to call it manufacturing chain) and a dashboard to always stay on top of what is happening at the moment, just like what a digital twin would provide you. If you would like to learn more, we would love to have a chat with you, non-binding of course!

Does this sound interesting for you and your company?

Let’s have a talk about how virtualfab can support your company on in it’s digitalisation!

Bilberg, A. ; Moller, C.; Yildiz, E. (2020) Virtual Factory: Digital Twin Based Integrated Factory Simulations. Aalborg University, University of Southern Denmark.
Grieves, M. (2015) Digital Twin: Manufacturing Excellence through Virtual Factory Replication. Digital Twin White Paper.
Grieves, M. (2016) Origins of the Digital Twin Concept.