Recently named one of Gartner’s Top 10 strategic technology trends, digital twin technology is poised to change the face of the manufacturing sector. It’ll have a significant impact on the way products are designed and maintained by making manufacturing processes more efficient and reducing throughput times. In fact, industry pundits anticipate that companies that invest in digital twin technology will see a 30% improvement in the cycle times of their critical processes.
The premise behind the concept is that each system has two components ― the physical system that has always existed, and a new virtual system that contains all the information about the physical system. So imagine the digital twin as your most talented product technician with the most advanced monitoring, analytical and predictive capabilities at their fingertips.
The concept represents the convergence of the physical and the virtual world where every industrial product will get a dynamic digital representation. Throughout the product development life cycle – from the design phase to the deployment phase – you can have a complete digital footprint of your products.
A digital twin is a 360⁰ representation of a physical asset such as a compressor, motor or an entire plant. It represents not just the structure, but also the behaviour of the physical asset in real life. This digital likeness can be manipulated to simulate operations under different conditions to provide predictability of asset behaviour. In turn, it empowers your employees to anticipate problems before they happen.
This is particularly helpful where on-site inspection of the physical asset is inconvenient, costly or hazardous. It allows a shift from preventive maintenance, based on historical data, to predictive maintenance, based on real-time data. Similarly, a digital version of the asset can be very useful when managing modifications, particularly if the asset will be partially or completely unmanned, or if it is highly complex.
For instance, digital twins can simulate assets such as rocket engines and oil rigs to monitor wear and tear, as well as the impact of varying degrees of stress on various parts. Such inputs can then be used for designing better assets in the future.
So how does it work?
First, smart components that use sensors to gather data about real-time status, working condition, or position are integrated with a physical item. The components are connected to a cloud-based system that receives and processes all the data the sensors monitor. This input is analysed against business and other contextual data.
These ‘connected digital things’ generate data in real time, and this helps organisations to better analyse and predict the problems in advance or give early warnings; prevent downtime; develop new opportunities; and even plan better products for the future at lower costs by using simulations. Ultimately, all these will have a greater impact on delivering a better customer experience too.
Building a strategy
When developing your digital twin strategy, remember these four points:
1. Asses readiness for adoption
How mature is your Internet of Things deployment? Is it ready to embrace twinning? What could be the starting point?
To help you with a readiness assessment, read the article Digital transformation: why operational maturity is your road map to readiness.
2. Keep it simple
Avoid building complex twins that do not offer the kind of insights that are essential to run your plant or business.
3. Focus on measurement
Develop KPIs to measure the progress of various initiatives and ROI realisation. (The latter may require a few years.)
4. Stay focused on core objectives
Learn how twinning will benefit your business before investing. Your twinning strategy should ultimately be primed towards generating value and tangible ROI.
Until recently, storage costs, bandwidth, and processing power restricted the use of digital twins for enterprises. With the Internet of Things, however, the digital twin is now much more cost-effective to implement, and all indications seem to predict we’re on the cusp of a digital twin technology explosion.
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