The Process behind Implementing Digital Twins in Manufacturing

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In this article, we’ll try to cover the main steps needed to conceptualize and execute a Digital Twin implementation within a manufacturing framework.
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In one of our blogs published in July, 2018, we touched upon the subject of Digital Twin technology in the manufacturing industry. Digital twins were originally NASA’s attempt at tracking and monitoring remote systems operating in hazardous conditions, but thanks to numerous technological advances and the ability to drastically reduce storage and computing costs, they have the opportunity to provide manufacturers with real-time, virtual replicas of their operations.

Digital twins deployed in specific assets are quite useful in and of themselves, but applying them to a range of interconnected manufacturing devices, systems and networks at the same time opens up a world of unique insights and help organizations grasp the intricacies of supply chain, production, workforce and asset management with precision and efficiency.

The Vision

In order to complete a project of this scope and complexity, companies need to create a roadmap of what they want to accomplish and apply it to existing assets and processes. The roadmap is essentially a suggestion of what a digital twin process should be able to do and the information needed to accomplish this.

How can an organization select a process to replicate with digital twin technology? What are the main integration points between reality and the virtual world? How can information be adapted so it can flow seamlessly in two directions?

These are the questions manufacturers can find an answer to by taking a closer look at their standard process design. By visualizing and creating diagrams of how business processes, physical assets, employees and information interact with each other, identifying key areas for improvement becomes much more practical. Organizations must then figure out what types of data are needed to monitor these areas and how digital twin technology can cut costs, save time, and increase overall operational efficiency.

The next step is creating the technology which enables a symmetrical relationship between physical assets and its virtual counterparts – manufacturers need to enable a flow of real-time information using sensor data and send it over to their organization’s central system for analysis and suggestions on how to improve efficiency.

As Deloitte explains it, the key to setting up a long-term, high-return strategy based on digital twins is “focusing on the kinds of information that will be required across the life cycle of the asset under consideration”. Structuring data correctly, which means organizing it in a way so that multiple systems and assets can use it in bilateral communication, should provide the foundation for manufacturers’ endeavors in the virtual world.

This not only sets the table for digital twin technology, but eliminates data silos, simplifies data management and allows for greater flexibility across your enterprise.

Examples of what digital twins can do for manufacturers are myriad. They include the ability to make quicker, analytics-based decisions in real time, visualize equipment and products in different environments, predict potential deviations or failures, troubleshoot assets remotely and, most importantly, integrate everything into one system of truth.

Integration is a word which can be used lightly in the world of technology. Its ambiguity helps solution sellers cover up inefficiencies and market everything as “integrated”. With Digital Twins, there is no way around connecting your assets and operations into one centralized system. It is an idea perpetuated by continuous cycles between business processes and reusing information to make improvements.  

The Cyclical Nature of Digital Twins

Once manufacturers have a clear concept of how they wish to connect assets with the virtual world, sensors are used to measure operational and environmental factors and these measurements are then sent to the main enterprise system as digital, encoded messages.

Bilateral connectivity and communication between a digital twin and its counterpart creates a flow of information which can be used further down the line and organized into action items. Technologies such as edge processing enable a much more cost-effective data transfer process than ever before.

Thanks to the huge surge of cloud technology, data repositories have evolved and collecting data is now much more practical, enabling manufacturers to aggregate and process information at a greater rate, and at a fraction of the costs incurred in the past.

After collecting data, the next step would be to analyze it through advanced analytics platforms and iterative models, after which insights can be created and presented via personalized, role-based dashboards. These insights could highlight key areas for improvement, indicate a difference in the performance of a physical asset relative to its digital twin and prompt users to take certain actions to improve operational efficiency.

Applying changes in the virtual version of your operations would then lead to real-life changes in the manufacturing process, closing the loop between the two worlds.

Finally, these changes would complete a full circle and alter information sent from reality to the system, notifying users if their goals were accomplished or not.

Conclusion

Modeling assets, devices, production plants and the way they interact with people using digital twins can give organizations a clear, real-time overview of the different scenarios and challenges that surface in the manufacturing industry.

Using this knowledge, you get to apply contextually aware solutions to everything you do and scale as much as you need. With digital twin technology, you can gradually expand your virtual network, adding sensors and tracking increasing amounts of factors which contribute to the outcomes you create.

Through the power of the Microsoft Business Azure Platform, manufacturers can correlate data from the physical world and various digital sources to build a unified infrastructure which can be controlled from one system.

One such system is the versatile Dynamics 365, envisioned to accelerate digital transformation and built with Satya Nadella’s vision of integration in mind: “Over the next 10 years, we’ll reach a point where nearly everything has become digitized.

At Merit Solutions, you can find ongoing support and industry expertise combined with cutting edge manufacturing technology. Our customized solutions and concepts are built to endure disruptions and provide you with unique insights. Read more about how you can upgrade to D365 and build a foundation for your Digital Twin project by clicking here.

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