Industry 4.0 Revolution: Understanding the Digital Twin and Its Benefits

The world is moving toward an era of more efficient business operations driving by automation. This was one of the key messages of Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems CEO, Paul Browning, at the just concluded 2019 CERAWeek held in Houston. Paul Browning, who was the keynote speaker on the ‘digital transformation agenda’, spoke about Mitsubishi’s use of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and digital Twin technologies to create the world’s first autonomous power plant.  He ended his speech by saying ‘Mitsubishi is building the world’s first autonomous power plant capable of self-healing.’

The use of digital transformation technology to eliminate downtime and reduce unplanned shutdowns are just a few of what can be accomplished with Digital Twin technologies. In fact, the ability to virtualize workspaces and complex systems have important roles to play in achieving the smart factory and Industry 4.0 revolution the most industries dream off. This is because no other emerging technology has the potential to bridge the gap between the physical world driven by machines and the virtual world like the Digital Twin. This is why the Digital Twin market is forecasted to be worth approximately $26billion by 2025.

While the numbers highlight the growing acceptance of Digital Twin solutions, many businesses are a bit skeptical about its implementation and benefits. This is why practical case studies are needed to highlight the application of the Digital Twins and how others have benefited from it.

The Most Important Benefits of Digital Twin Technology

Industry 4.0 business model relies on data to automate business processes. The Digital Twin, in turn, creates the perfect environment for collecting data from every aspect of the manufacturing process for analytics and simulation. When data is accurately collected and a Digital Twin is designed, system integrators, data analysts, and other stakeholders can use it to drive business policies and improve decision-making processes. The benefits Industry 4.0 and manufacturers stand to gain from Digital Twins include:

Enhanced Plant Performance – Having the capacity to access and quantify every information produced from a manufacturing process and the shop floor is key to automation. Digital Twin technologies allow manufacturers collect data from the sensors and embedded systems integrated onto a shop floor. The Digital Twin also takes things a step further by replicating physical manufacturing processes and creating a digital environment where these processes can be assessed.

With the necessary data from equipment, machines, material handling, and production cycles in place, manufacturers can develop policies and run simulations to determine how efficient they are. Once determined, the manufacturing policies and regulations can then be applied on the shop floor. This gives large enterprises a cheaper way to access the effects of decisions on productivity levels.

A DHL study on the importance of Digital Twin in enhancing plant performance highlights the use of Digital Twin by Iveco solutions to optimize welding capabilities. The Iveco manufacturing line struggled with constant breakdown of its welding components which delayed production. The cause of these breakdowns were pin-pointed to a lamellar pack which wore out constantly. To enhance performance and reduce downtime, Iveco designed a Digital Twin model of its manufacturing line/

The Digital Twin model helped Iveco understand the different welding concepts and requirements, as well as, their effect on the lamellar pack. Using simulation and machine learning, Iveco developed an optimal welding process that could forecast the probability of component failures in other to reduce them.

Driven Predictive Maintenance –  One of the benefits of designing a Digital Twin of manufacturing shop floors or plants is the opportunity to integrate predictive maintenance into business models. Predictive maintenance involves the prediction of a component or machine failure and the taken of preemptive action to forestall failure. Digital Twin technology has created an environment that drives predictive maintenance across various systems.

Once again, The Mitsubishi Hitachi Power System plant serves as an example where Digital Twin technology can drive the predictive maintenance policy in Industry 4.0. The Digital Twin model created by Mitsubishi gives power plants the ability to monitor sensors and other parameters that determine the plant’s performance levels. On application, the Digital Twin, alongside AI, and machine learning provided insight on the best time to schedule maintenance activities without disrupting production.

The benefits Mitsubishi reaped from its use of Digital Twins include a more efficient way to discover fault components and a maintenance culture that reduced downtime. The autonomous plant was also able to run self-diagnostics and repair stuck valves that affected power generation. Smart facilities can take advantage of the Digital Twin to drive a predictive maintenance culture which will eliminate resource waste and downtime caused by faulty equipment.

Advanced Control of Complex Systems or Processes – Digital Twin ecosystems provide an avenue to control complex systems and processes in ways other traditional technologies can’t. This is because, AI, machine learning, and simulations can be applied to the digital environment thereby allowing enterprises to see farther. Digital Twin takes control process which involves comparing system performances with set standards, discover deviations, and design corrective actions to greater heights. This makes it a great resource for research in Industry 4.0.

An example of how Digital Twins makes advanced control of complex systems possible can be seen from how the U.S. Department of Energy National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) deployed Digital Twin solutions. The Digital Twin of the (NETL) plant was used to carry out research on the use of carbon dioxide to power plants as a replacement to the hazardous coal-powered plants currently in use. The Digital Twin also mapped out the plant’s sensor network in other to optimize its use.

The Digital Twin created by the research team served as a virtual testbed for analyzing operational relationships and their effects on power generation. The benefits of Digital Twins, in this case, included a cheaper more effective way to analyze control process phenomena and reduce downtime. Increasing plant reliability and optimizing the use of resources were also singled out as benefits. 

Easing Training and Onboarding Process – The future of Industry 4.0 is being driven by emerging technology solutions such as the industrial internet of things (IIoT), IoT, automated vehicles and equipment. This means to effectively take advantage of the benefits of Industry 4.0 older and new employees must be thought to function in a smart facility. Digital Twins of plant systems and processes provide a virtual environment for employees to learn about operational processes.

In a case study conducted in an automotive facility, employees were taught the repair and assembling process in a virtualized environment and through manuals. At the end of the training employees preferred the option of learning through virtualized environments and retained more information compared to learning from physical manuals. This means the hands-on learning approach driven by Digital Twin technology creates a better environment for learning complex process safely.

Take Advantage of The Benefits of Digital Twins

The combination of Digital Twin technology and cloud computing has made the design, emulation, scheduling, analytics, and simulation services it offers even more affordable to end-users. Small and medium scale businesses can now access Digital Twin solutions to solve complex problems. This means Digital Twin as a Service is slowly but surely becoming an option for enterprises to explore. You can learn more about the Digital Twin opportunities for your business by contacting the experienced engineers at Simio.

Resources:

https://www.ice.org.uk/knowledge-and-resources/case-studies/digital-twins-for-building-flexibility-into-power

https://www.logistics.dhl/content/dam/dhl/global/core/documents/pdf/glo-core-digital-twins-in-logistics.pdf

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-04-09/forget-cars-mitsubishi-hitachi-sees-autonomous-power-plants

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