Despite how automated and fool-proof the highly technological manufacturing process may seem, the truth of the matter is, there’s quite a large amount of trial and error that goes into creating products, running supply chains, and maintaining productivity. Factory teams are constantly testing new technologies in order to see which stand to truly enhance their supply chains and which don’t. Unfortunately, just because error is par for the course doesn’t mean it can’t cost manufacturers considerable amounts of money. Even if it’s for the sake of testing a new production process, if productivity suffers, manufacturers lose time, resources, and money. That’s where, in conjunction with proper hardware such as industrial grade PCs and IoT capable machinery, the software-based digital twin in manufacturing can help. By removing some of the risks inherent in testing new production processes, supply chains, and products, digital twin driven smart manufacturing has proved an essential boon for those still producing during these tumultuous times. 

What is a Digital Twin in Manufacturing?

The term “digital twin”, coined by Dr. Michael Grieves in 2002, refers to a completely digital, computer-based replica of a product, machine, or entire production process. These digital replicas are often used as a sort of virtual testing site for processes or products where changes made can be simulated before they are enacted in real life. Think of them as a kind of digital backup of an important asset that can be safely edited without fear of damaging the real asset.

These digital twins are crafted from real-time data pulled from IoT sensors such as key performance indicators, internal machine temperature, product yield, and more. Using this data, programs are able to create a near one-to-one replication of the hardware or process in question, making it a phenomenal playground for manufacturers to test all manner of changes to supply chains, production, or even a product design.  

The digital twin in manufacturing is an innovation that’s been around for quite some time but has continued to see popular use during these tougher times in manufacturing’s history. In fact, according to a recent survey by Juniper Research, global spending on digital twin driven smart manufacturing is expected to rise by 17% despite complications brought on by COVID-19. It’s rather self-explanatory why this is the case as well. As manufacturers respond to a manufacturing recession, they’re taking great efforts to mitigate any downtime in their production efforts. Even a short stall in production or a single malfunctioning piece of hardware can be disastrous for a factory that’s had its supply chain uprooted and stock depleted during times of quarantine. Naturally, this discourages manufacturers to experiment with different technologies and changes to their normal production processes. 

By employing a digital twin in manufacturing, these risks can be side-stepped while still allowing managers to experiment and test out different production processes and product iterations.

Digital Twin Manufacturing Examples and Use Cases

Digital twin manufacturing examples and use cases can span across several parts of the production process. Below are only a few instances where smart manufacturing with the aid of digital twin programs can help diminish downtime and lost productivity, 

Product Ideation

When creating a product, it’s incredibly demoralizing to spend hours and hours on ideation, only to finally create the product and realize there are a host of issues to address or that, even worse, the product isn’t fit to be made at all. With digital twin technology in manufacturing, plans and blueprints for a machine or product can be put into a program, creating a digital replica of your theorized product. From there, this physics-based representation of your design can be placed in all manner of digital simulations, places and times where you imagine your product would be used. The software can then simulate your product’s use in these fields in real-time, allowing you to see potential problems and design flaws before a single dollar is spent creating the real-life version of the product. 

Digital twin tech employed during the product ideation phase allows designers to relentlessly test products in all manner of situations before finally settling on a design that has been proven to work across countless simulations. This can also allow for stakeholders to play a part in the design process at an earlier stage where there’s less fear of lost time and resources as a result of testing ideas.  

Quality Control

Outside of the product development phase, the digital twin in manufacturing can also deliver a massive boost to a manufacturer’s supply chain visibility and quality control efforts. By creating a digital replica of an entire production process, manufacturers gain a big-picture view of their entire production line, making it much easier to find cracks in the line that are causing the occasional off product.

Going through this digital process, line managers can make hypothetical changes to the production line and see where the drops in quality are occurring. Whether that drop be occurring due to a faulty machine, a lack of staff at a crucial station, or any other reason, the digital replica can allow users to pinpoint the flaw and make efforts to alleviate it.

The aircraft manufacturing industry, known for having some of the most stringent bars of quality for their parts is well known for employing digital twin technology to enhance the quality control of their products.

Training Machines for Predictive Maintenance

As we mentioned, digital twin applications can be employed across several stages of production, including the machine maintenance stage. Predictive maintenance has been an exciting and readily adopted part of the push towards smart manufacturing. By using machine algorithms to detect faults in the production line, manufacturers can catch underperforming machines before they have a chance to fully break down, cause downtime, and cost much more money. Of course, these machine algorithms need to be trained to detect faults in the system and respond accordingly, and it’s not like a manufacturer can afford to purposefully hinder their production lines in order to create those faults on which the algorithm can be trained. That’s where the digital twin comes into play. 

Using a digitized version of the production line, manufacturers simulate breakdowns and faults which can then be used to train the machine learning algorithm for when those breakdowns happen in the real world. Mathworks did a wonderful job of breaking down a real-world example of this use case. In it, they explained how a digital twin of a triplex pump was used to create simulations that were used to train a predictive maintenance algorithm designed to address malfunctions in that pump’s operation.

How Can You Prepare to Incorporate the Digital Twin in Manufacturing?

Based on our previous definition, it can be safely assumed that preparing to incorporate digital twin programs requires you to have IoT capabilities in place. Data gathered from these sensors is how digital replicas are created after all. That said, IoT sensors are a given. Additionally, you’ll want computers capable of gathering data from these sensors and also functioning as workstations for your factory floor workers. 

Din rail computers built to be industrial grade are designed to integrate with IoT connectible devices and can go a long way towards vaulting your operation further into smart manufacturing, digital twin technology, and all the benefits that come along with it. Some considerations need to be made, of course, when picking workstation computers for your floor. 

First and foremost, you’ll want to ensure you pick a device that’s compatible with your sensors and the software you use to gather readings from your IoT machinery. You’ll also want to pick out computers that won’t fall to wear and tear common on the factory floor. Fanless designs that are IP65 certified, for example, protect against debris ingress while also delivering the added benefit of making the devices resilient against abrasive sanitation products, allowing them to be cleaned more often which will be necessary coming out of a global pandemic.

Digital Twin Driven Smart Manufacturing is More Applicable Than Ever

Smart manufacturing is here to stay, that much is a given. What recent drops in the manufacturing sector and available workforce have shown us, however, is which technological advancements deserve prioritization in the coming years. Applications of the digital twin in manufacturing have surely moved up several spots on the list due to their versatility and ability to limit downtime in an era where downtime couldn’t cost manufacturers more money. For more information on how you can get started with digital twin technology, contact a professional from Cybernet’s team today.