Digital Twins Go Beyond Improving Machine Design

Digital Twins Go Beyond Improving Machine Design

By enabling pretesting of machines or production lines, virtual operator training and enhanced maintenance, simulation helps improve long-term performance.

Digital replicas of real things help us make all kinds of decisions in our daily lives.

Online street maps help us get around and know how traffic will affect our drive time. Virtual tours allow us to explore a new house without stepping inside it. And virtual seating helps us see how close we’ll be to the action at games and concerts, and even what view we’ll have.

A new kind of digital replica known as a digital twin has recently taken hold in the business world. It’s a virtual, model-based recreation of a physical thing — like a product, machine or even an entire production facility. And it can help you make better design, production and maintenance decisions in some profound ways.

If you’re a machine builder, you can design and prototype machines, and test their performance using real-world physics, long before you cut steel. You can also virtually commission machines to avoid last-minute surprises when you’re on-site with an end user.

If you’re a manufacturer or other industrial firm, a digital twin can help you design and validate a new line or production site before you buy equipment. You can also better prepare operators by using a digital twin for virtual training. And you can use a digital twin to help inform and guide maintenance activities to reduce downtime.

A Living, Learning Model

Simulation is already used in manufacturing to examine important factors like the key performance indicators (KPIs) that you want to improve. For example, you might simulate the operation of a car to predict its fuel efficiency.

A digital twin takes that idea and builds on it, because it’s a living digital replica that learns and changes over time. So, with a digital twin, not only could you predict the car’s fuel efficiency when a buyer takes the keys, but you also could predict how and when that efficiency will degrade.

You could even predict when the buyer should take the car in for maintenance. A digital twin could not only use measurables like mileage driven and time elapsed, along with a model of the car’s wear based on other factors such as temperature and driver behavior, to predict maintenance needs.

Reimagine Your Business

When it comes to how a digital twin can improve how workers do their jobs and make decisions, the use cases are endless. But some applications are proving to bring the most value to industrial design, operation and maintenance activities. These applications include:

Virtual Design and Prototyping: A digital twin allows designers to create machines and put them through their paces in the digital world, before building them in the real world.

This could be something as simple as verifying a mechanical fit or clearance in a machine. Or it could be something more advanced, such as using mathematical models to understand how a machine will behave once it’s built.

With these capabilities, designers can build better machines, minimize rework and get to market faster at a lower cost.

Virtual Commissioning: Nobody likes the surprises and changes that spring up during commissioning. But for many, these issues are simply considered a cost of doing business.

With a digital twin, you can get ahead of problems in areas such as controls integration and line sequencing that can disrupt commissioning and delay production start-ups. You can create a virtual machine that uses real operational logic and connects to a control system. Then you can test, debug and verify the machine’s performance before you commission it.

Immersive Training: When training is shifted from the real world to the digital space, operators can learn more and make mistakes without consequence.

Using a digital twin, operators can learn and interact with the systems they’ll be using in a safe, virtual environment. They can be trained in normal and exceptional scenarios. And they can be required to demonstrate procedures, awareness and effectiveness before they start working in a real production environment.

Virtual training can also reduce training costs. Instead of traveling to a training location or relying on equipment being available, trainees can access everything they need digitally.

Knowledge-Driven Operations: A digital twin can change how you see, run and manage production.

For example, you can use real-time 3D simulations to see how to run products, machines and facilities at optimal throughput. In one case, a food maker used a digital twin to test and validate a facility upgrade prior to implementation. This helped the company achieve 80% less downtime and a more than 10% throughput increase.

Running a digital twin in parallel with a real machine can also help you see where a problem might arise as the machine’s performance drifts away from the model. A digital twin can even use internally calculated properties to create virtual sensors, which can temporarily replace a faulty sensor or eliminate the use of a physical sensor altogether.

Guided and Predictive Maintenance: Technicians can use a digital twin in several ways to reduce downtime or even get ahead of it.

For example, technicians can look at a digital twin of a machine within an augmented reality (AR) environment to troubleshoot it before they shut it down. Then, they can use the AR technology to get work instructions digitally overlaid on the physical machine to quickly and accurately repair it.

Creating predictive models from a digital twin can also help technicians see failures before they happen. The required maintenance can then be scheduled during a planned shutdown.

Increasingly Essential Tool

Digital twins are transforming industrial operations. They’re elevating how people interact with machines and processes, while expanding the potential of future workforces. And as digital twins become further engrained in today’s rapidly changing, more technology-driven industrial environments, their value will only grow.

The Journal From Rockwell Automation and Our PartnerNetwork™ is published by Putman Media, Inc.

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