A Disruptive technology is a product, concept or service that has the ability to redefine the traditional way of doing things. Today, the digital twin concept is being hailed as a disruptive technology with the capacity to change how we design, solve complex problems and collaborate. In fact, a Gartner Report predicted that by 2021 approximately 50% of industrial companies will integrate the use of digital twin technologies to increase workforce performance and manufacturing efficiency. So, what is this disruptive technological concept?
The Digital Twin refers to a real-time replica of a physical entity. This entity could be a living thing, an inanimate physical object, as well as, assets, processes and systems that function in the physical world or environment. Although this concept is actually three decades old, the convergence of emerging technologies such as the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning has taken it to new heights. Digital twins juxtapose these emerging technologies to create digital models of physical entities with the ability to simulate real-time changes that occur to the physical model.
An example of how this concept work involve the development of the digital twin of an aircraft. With the digital twin, finite element analysis (FEA) can be applied to determine the fatigue limit of the aircraft’s structure. The results of this simulation can then be used to design or choose more suitable materials or design for a more durable aircraft. Outside manufacturing, digital twins can be employed in diverse industries including healthcare to simulate how the human body reacts to external forces. The benefits of integrating digital twins include increased design efficiency, enhancing predictive analysis, and collaboration. This is why the market for it is expected to hit approximately $15billion by 2023. The benefits of digital twins are huge but the challenges business will face not embracing it is even bigger.
This article will discuss:
- The challenges businesses face not integrating the digital twin in business operations.
- The effects of not embracing the digital twin.
- The disruptive capabilities of the digital twin.
The Five Challenges Businesses Face Not Embracing Digital Twins
With approximately 50% of industrial companies integrating the use of digital twins, the 50% who don’t will definitely be losing their competitive edge. This is because the digital twin will redefine real-time simulation applications in ways the average 3D modelling software or Building Information Modelling platform can’t aspire to. The challenges to expect include:
Keeping Legacy Solutions, Designs or Data – As the generation of baby boomers continue to retire daily, the probability of losing the knowledge that built legacy equipment and systems could be lost. This includes the Mylar copies of traditional manufacturing equipment or the designs of legacy military aircraft. Regardless of technological advancements, the loss of legacy data destroys the foundations newer prototypes were built on.
With the aid of the digital twin concept, businesses across every industry, can create an accurate digital model of legacy equipment or solutions. The digital model can then be stored for posterity sake or analyzed with the aim of developing upgraded prototypes. Models can also be used as materials for training the younger generation of workers through virtual reality environments.
Enhancing Lean Manufacturing Processes – Toyota’s integration of lean manufacturing to speed up production while efficiently using resources has become folklore in the automotive industry. The integration of lean manufacturing models – which were disruptive at that time – helped Toyota dominate the industry for decades. This is the leverage the digital twin concept offers. The ability to optimize entire product value chains is something that can be achieved in real-time through the digital twin.
A study at the Bayreuth University, Germany focused on analyzing the impact of digital twins in collecting real-time data and optimizing production systems. The study compared the efficiency of digital twins and the commonly used value stream mapping solutions. In the end, the results showed that digital twins exceeded traditional solutions in data acquisition, automated derivation of optimization measures, and the capturing of motion data. These data which are crucial to optimizing production could also be utilized in a digital twin environment to optimize diverse processes. Thus, shunning digital twins will leave firms in the lurch while competitors who leverage this concept can optimize production variables in real-time.
Limitations in the Integration and Use of Data – The Industry 4.0 revolution currently going on relies heavily on the collection and use of data to receive important business insight and automate processes. The tools or applications currently used today are enterprise relationship management software, and industrial cloud solutions. Although these solutions do excellently well in collecting data from smart or industrial internet of things (IIoT) devices, they still struggle with collecting data from legacy or dumb equipment. This limits the penetration of Industry 4.0 in the deepest layers of manufacturing shop floors which is what the OPC Foundation intends to solve.
Digital twin concepts can help smart factories integrate dumb equipment from the deepest levels of a shop floor into models of the manufacturing plant. This makes it possible to capture the hundreds of non-measured information in the shop floor into a digital environment thereby truly meeting Industry 4.0 and OPC UA standards. If successfully done, the digital twin with the captured data can be used to predict the facilities transient response to external disturbances, equipment failure, and system malfunctions.
Manufacturers who overlook digital twin concepts will be stuck with using data from only smart equipment and IoT devices to track real-time changes on the shop floor. The limitations associated with not capturing non-measured data will lead to approximations when automating operations in a smart factory. This could lead to downtime, an inefficient workforce, and in extreme situations accidents to workers.
Limiting the Effectiveness of Predictive Analysis – Another important challenge shunning the integration of digital twins into industrial operations is the difficulties that come with making blind or half-informed changes. Making blind changes when making important decisions such as designing a new material handling system or reducing the number of processes needed to develop a product will have terrible consequences. These consequences will include wastage of resources, a subpar end product or confusion on the shop floor.
According to Gartner, downtime in the manufacturing industry could lead to huge losses. In the automotive industry alone, downtime is responsible for a loss of $22,000 per minute. Although the numbers may be less in other industries, the effects are still considerable. Digital twins can help eliminate these challenges or losses by helping businesses simulate the real-time effect of making certain changes. For example, a change of production schedule while going through a transition period would have left the aviation manufacturer Lockheed Martin unable to meet its delivery timelines. With the aid of the Simio simulation software, the manufacturer was able to make informed decisions that optimized the production process.
The match to industry 4.0 and a more connected factory is one that must be planned for if manufacturers intend to remain competitive for the long run. One way to achieve this is by integrating a digital twin for simulating and receiving the insights needed to automate industrial processes. If properly executed, you will be turning the disruptive nature of the digital twin to your benefit.