Using digital twins that reflect the product and production systems, manufacturers may minimize the time and expense associated with the manufacturing, installation and validation of factory production systems.

Fremont, CA: In recent years, several innovations have emerged that are instrumental in driving the development of smart manufacturing and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). While all of these innovations are transforming the face of manufacturing today, research by the ARC Advisory Group indicates that the IIoT, connected smart assets, and in particular the digital twin, have the most immediate and important effect on how businesses adopt smart manufacturing.

The basic idea of a digital twin is not a modern one. It includes integrating virtual engineering models with physical products or equipment in an environment that allows for change and optimization of the product as planned and constructed. However, due to the development and progression of enabling technology, we see a renewed emphasis on the introduction of the digital twin and the related benefits that can be achieved. Using digital twins that reflect the product and production systems, manufacturers may minimize the time and expense associated with the manufacturing, installation and validation of factory production systems. In addition, the introduction of digital twins for asset management usually offers quantifiable advantages for the maintenance of equipment in the sector.

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Why the digital twin is applied today

One of the initial areas of focus for the introduction of the digital twin was asset lifecycle management (ALM). Maintaining assets in the field has historically been a time-consuming and expensive job but vital to the uptime of equipment and systems. Maintenance technicians are now able to exploit technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR) that allow them to access virtual engineering models and overlay those models over the physical equipment on which they carry out maintenance using advanced AR goggles or glasses. This allows them to use the most reliable and up-to-date engineering to ensure that the necessary maintenance and performance requirements are carried out efficiently. These same maintenance techniques, focused on the integration of virtual and physical worlds, can be applied to factory production processes, equipment and work cells.

In addition, products, manufacturing processes, equipment and cells can be replicated digitally to test and verify physical systems prior to assembly and installation. In addition, the virtual commissioning of production automation—a well-established technology and process—is combining with the more expansive reach of the digital twin. Digital commissioning is normally a one-time validation of an electronic production system. The digital twin, on the other hand, describes a continuous analytical and optimizing mechanism that takes place in real-time.