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4 Ways Digital Twins Are Transforming Manufacturing for the Better

EmilyNewton
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Designing a digital twin

A digital twin is a highly realistic and accurate representation of a real-life asset, whether a building, product or something else. Relying on a digital twin in manufacturing is an increasingly common decision. Here are some fascinating digital twin applications that highlight how this technology is improving the industry.

1. Raising the Return on Investment on New Machines

Investing in new equipment is a practical way for manufacturers to raise overall output, reduce errors, and achieve other gains. However, purchasing something new is not a guarantee that it will pay off for a facility. Fortunately, digital twins can increase the likelihood of such investments exceeding expectations.

More specifically, they’re valuable for virtual commissioning and helping avoid costly mistakes while installing the machines.

Reducing Challenges During Equipment Installations

KHS is a German-headquartered company specializing in machines for packaging and filling. Stefan Diesner, who leads the organization’s Palletizing Product Center, explained how digital twins play a crucial role in helping commissioning go as smoothly as possible.

“In particular, what’s known as the digital twin enables procedures to be transferred to a virtual environment by tracking and imaging all phases in a machine’s life cycle. All production processes and products can then be simulated virtually. Our aim is to continue to shorten lead times and lower fault-related costs by expanding our virtual commissioning setup,” he explained.

Diesner also clarified that the digital twin’s data offers vital insights, especially when customers want changes made. “All data is generated and stored at our production site, albeit still in a number of different systems. Further steps must be taken here before efficient and bidirectional access to this data is provided by a virtual engineering tool that includes simulation. Once this has been done, we can configure the system according to customer specifications or quickly and efficiently commission adapted machine designs on-screen.”

2. Minimizing the Uncertainty Associated With Innovation

Moving ahead with new products and processes is often what keeps companies competitive in challenging marketplaces. However, even positive changes can feel unsettling due to their unknown factors. What if a new manufacturing process brings unexpected costs or other challenges? Could pursuing innovation result in surprising benefits?

A digital twin helps answer those questions and others, helping manufacturers feel more confident about what’s ahead.

Showing the Effects of Changes Before They Happen

You’ve probably occasionally wished it were possible to look into the future and see the impacts of a decision before making it. Digital twins offer the next best thing by giving users a virtual environment they can use as a testing ground for real-life changes.

Keith Thornhill is the head of the United Kingdom and Ireland’s food and beverage division at Siemens. He recently gave a real-life example of how digital twin applications can help manufacturers get better prepared for doing things differently.

“Food manufacturers of all sizes are already utilizing digital twins to reduce time and risk when laying the foundation for innovation. For example, packaging provider TrakRap used a digital twin to test methods of taking heat and waste out of their packaging line. Since doing so, they’ve been able to develop a new line of orbital wrapping machines and have helped the retailers reduce the level of packaging they use,” he confirmed.

3. Enhancing Overall Safety

Using a digital twin in manufacturing is an effective way to make everyone safer and see where risks exist. It could reveal the areas of a factory that need extra protection. For example, petrochemical manufacturers use blast shields to mitigate the effects of explosions. Some options cause a 50-80% reduction in blast pressure and vent hazardous fumes.

A digital twin could help manufacturers decide where to install blast shields for the best outcomes. It could also prove useful regarding the placement of safety signage, floor markings, or other measures to prevent accidents.

Helping Manufacturers Implement and Adapt Guidelines

Most manufacturing businesses have been essential facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, that doesn’t mean operations stayed the same. Managers examined how to have employees keep safe distances and deal with any frequently congested areas. Digital twins allowed them to visualize pandemic protocols and their effects, whether establishing or updating those measures.

Julie Fraser, the vice president of manufacturing software research at Tech-Clarity, said, “I’ve spoken to a few companies that modeled their factories to figure out how to put people back to work safely — specifically to figure out how to practice social distancing or to implement air quality control. Digital twins of factories and simulation technologies enable companies to better understand the restart requirements and interdependencies so they can respond better as issues and restrictions change.”

Finnish tech company Haltian has a digital twin platform called Empathic Building. Besides giving workplace diagrams to ensure people stay far enough apart, it allows people to voluntarily show their vaccination status. The platform turns all workers into avatars. A person can make theirs wear a mask to indicate they’ve gotten the COVID-19 shots.

4. Achieving Better Operational Visibility

Manufacturing leaders often initially become interested in digital twin applications because they want better insights into what happens in their factories during any given time. Some future-oriented construction companies use digital twins that update as a project progresses. These help managers anticipate and address issues before they cause delays or cost overruns. Digital twins can show process bottlenecks, giving leaders the details they need to resolve them, too.

Finding Errors Earlier in the Process

When manufacturers are more aware of what happens during every phase of production, it’s easier to pinpoint problems that could lead to lost profits and high defect rates if left unaddressed. However, depending on a digital twin in manufacturing is an excellent way to get an overview of what’s going right, plus drill down to the areas that need improvement.

One product developed by a startup combines a digital twin and augmented reality to streamline the inspections of parts and assemblies. More specifically, the solution uses a camera-equipped tablet to compare just-manufactured items against a digital twin that shows their computer-aided design files.

Once a person aims the tablet’s camera at a physical object, an auto-alignment feature matches it with the digital twin file. This approach means factory workers can find deviations faster than before, getting to the root causes of expensive abnormalities. Plus, since the technology works via a tablet, there’s no need to move massive parts to different locations for inspections. People can walk up to wherever they are to perform the assessment.

Digital Twin Applications Bring Impressive Outcomes

These real-life examples of using a digital twin in manufacturing shed light on why decision-makers are getting more interested in incorporating the technology into their facilities. Keeping a manufacturing plant highly functional and profitable is easier due to the simulated scenarios a digital twin can provide.

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She has over three years experience writing articles for the tech and industrial sectors. Subscribe to the Revolutionized newsletter for more content from Emily at https://revolutionized.com/subscribe/

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