Digital Twins in Manufacturing

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Originally pioneered by NASA, digital twin technology was developed to enable the monitoring of remote systems operating in hazardous conditions. Being able to gather and transmit data in real time and feed it into simulated duplicates quickly drew the attention of organizations that were operating at remote locations or had processes that were particularly demanding or dangerous.

However, it is definitely not necessary for the circumstances to be so extreme for companies to suffer losses due to downtime or wasteful design processes. Now, virtually any manufacturer is capable of collecting sensor data from their production line. An emergence of IoT enabled production machines and powerful cloud computing capable of running advanced machine learning algorithms is allowing digital twin technology to find a wide array of applications in modern manufacturing.

Where can it be applied

It’s easiest to think of a digital twin as a virtual model of a production machine, end product or even the whole production process in their intended environment. Leveraging both sensor data from the asset itself as well as contextual data, gathered under various working conditions, a 3D virtual replica can be created to troubleshoot and repair equipment as well as test new designs or implement improvements.

Virtually any manufacturer can use digital twin technology to reinvent the way they design, test and produce. Having access to a virtual environment hosting accurate replicas of key assets by using real time information, gathered by appropriate physical counterparts, will dramatically decrease operating costs, improve flexibility and speed up innovation. In a recent 2018 IoT implementation survey, Gartner found that 48% of companies currently implementing IoT also plan to incorporate digital twins into their processes. By 2022, the number of companies using digital twins is projected to triple.

The value of digital twins

Keep production costs in check and reduce the amount of downtime by detecting issues ahead of time or finding the most effective solution using a digital twin. This way, critical failures can altogether be avoided without adding to maintenance costs. Consider this: a system warning shows up, predicting that you’re heading towards an imminent breakdown of a vital production asset. You don’t have the necessary replacement part on hand and the downtime will have serious consequences on customer relations. In a situation like this, the digital twin simulation can offer you alternative solutions such as tweaking performance to safer levels, delaying the maintenance until the part is acquired.

Operational breakthroughs and revolutionary products are what design and engineering teams dream about. However, conventional R&D cycles revolve more around incremental improvement of existing products rather than pushing fundamental changes and innovation. Digital twins make this more approachable by allowing product development and proof of concept to be done at a much lower cost in a virtual environment. This allows for better products and a much faster time to market.

Data driven manufacturing

By now, most businesses are familiar with data collection and visualization systems such as CAD and have even been using them for quite some time. What cloud computing offers to add to the original value derived from these tools is to enable them to be used in process optimization and as innovation accelerants.

At Merit Solutions, we enable manufacturers to fundamentally reimagine their operations and business models. We can help you identify opportunities to make better use of the production data that you have or point out key gaps that would enable you to get more value from that data. In this environment you can truly get the most out of technologies such as digital twins and enter a new era of manufacturing.

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