Industry 4.0 is a term used to define the current industrial revolution revolving around digitalization. The so-called fourth industrial revolution the world is currently going through is possible only due to advanced modern technologies such as machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and Digital Twins (DT).
When combined, these technologies can recreate products, manufacturing processes, supply chains, and everything in between in a digital environment, allowing companies to test various ideas and designs at low costs. But, first, let's look at Digital Twins and explain its benefits in more detail.
Digital Twin Technology Explained
Put simply, a Digital Twin is a copy of existing physical objects or processes in a digital environment. It is often confused with simulations, and while it shares some features with CAD-based virtual environments, a Digital Twin is far more accurate and flexible. Unlike simulations that require an engineer to input the numbers manually, Digital Twins are fed by real-world generated by tiny IoT sensors placed across a production line or object. These sensors monitor the performance of the object in real-time, allowing the Digital Twin to digitalize the process with incredible accuracy.
As you can imagine, the technology allows companies to test their products, processes, and ideas in a virtual environment to see how they will behave in different settings and situations. DT technology is multiple times more efficient and accurate than any CAD-based simulation available in the past. DT is already redefining entire industries, including manufacturing, on four different levels:
- The component level - allows running virtual performance tests of individual machinery components used in manufacturing.
- Asset level - Testing a single asset in a virtual environment.
- System Level - Using a digital twin to monitor and optimize the performance of an entire production line.
- Process Level - Testing an entire manufacturing process that includes all stages from product design to shipping and supply chain management. The technology can be applied to any business process allowing companies to find better solutions for various issues through the entire supply chain.
How Do Digital Twins Work?
For a Digital Twin to work, it needs access to relevant operational data generated in the real world. Modern machinery used in manufacturing already has built-in sensors that gather operational information in real-time. Older machinery and devices that don't have these sensors are fitted with special IoT sensors and connected to the same system.
The sensors collect operational data sent to a cloud-based AI solution that processes the data and generates a digital replica. Of course, the incoming data has to be filtered and processed correctly for the DT to work. When set up correctly, the AI can copy the process in a digital environment to run all kinds of tests and simulations.
Since the sensors send real-time data, the digital twin can copy what's happening with the physical system in real-time. Moreover, DT allows you to run future simulations for every asset or the entire system to help you predict possible issues waiting down the road. The bottom line is that Digital Twin technology needs access to operational data throughout the whole process to provide accurate results in a virtual environment.
Benefits of Digital Twin in Manufacturing
Having the chance to run future simulations of production plants, products, and processes offers all kinds of long-term benefits you can use to improve efficiency and productivity. You can also simulate product use in various environments (even impossible ones) to enhance the quality of the product and increase customer satisfaction. Let's look at the benefits of Digital Twin in more detail.
Faster Risk Assessment and Increased Productivity
Product validation can be an absolute nightmare, especially with multiple features. However, things become far more manageable with a digital twin. Companies can now use a virtual environment to test their products in different scenarios, allowing engineers to improve their design before the prototype is ever built.
Moreover, they can test some incredible ideas and see how a product behaves under stress to create mitigation strategies that will be used in the future. That helps improve risk assessment and speeds up new product development, shortening the time-to-market.
Predictive maintenance is truly a revolutionary process that redefines the manufacturing industry from the ground up. Traditionally, manufacturers had to plan regular maintenance efforts to keep the machinery running correctly. Shutting down production is usually accompanied by long delays and long-term financial losses.
Digital Twin technology uses IoT sensors to generate real-time data and identify problems within the system. Manufacturers can use the real-world data to run future simulations and pinpoint the exact moment when a machine will break down. Instead of scheduling regular maintenance (that happens even if all machines are in perfect working order), manufacturers can now plan predictive maintenance only when it makes sense. That leads to an increase in production efficiency and lower maintenance costs.
Once all machines and assets are connected to a cloud-based system, engineers can monitor what's going on in real-time, no matter where they might be. Of course, they all need a laptop and access to the internet to get an in-depth view of the physical system and make the required changes. Remote monitoring used to be something you would see in sci-fi movies until just a few years ago.
Improved Team Collaboration
Apart from directly impacting production and efficiency, Digital Twin technology also improves team collaboration through automation. AI-driven systems learn how production works overtime, and it's able to take care of the most time-consuming tasks after some time. That way, your engineers and technicians will have more time to focus on other essential processes, and they will have access to accurate operational data, which will further improve collaboration.
Better Financial Decision-Making
Digital Twins also allow manufacturers to get a better estimation of production costs by calculating data such as labor and material costs. All of that is done by the AI solution that uses real-time data to perform advanced analytics allowing businesses to make better-informed decisions. This alone is enough to make DT technology worth it, as it helps strengthen the value chain and improve financial decisions in the future.
Digital Twin Applications
Although Digital Twin technology is primarily used in manufacturing, it can be applied to many different industries. Here are a few DT applications already setting new standards across various industries.
As mentioned above, Digital Twins can simulate entire production processes to the smallest of details. It can help optimize internal processes such as production and product design when applied to manufacturing. The Digital Twin allows companies to make accurate predictions of how a product or process will behave in the future. That way, manufacturers can pinpoint errors and design flaws before the production starts, which can help them save a lot of money.
Since DT uses actual data to run simulations, it is easier to optimize power generation and consumption. The technology uses real-world data to identify surges in energy demand and pinpoint machinery that might be using too much power. Of course, that leads to energy demand optimization and reduced operating costs.
Traditionally, the automotive industry involves a lot of development and product testing. We've all witnessed issues where car manufacturers had to remove millions of units from the market due to a single design flaw, costing them billions of dollars in waste. DT technology can help prevent failures before production starts, effectively reducing production costs. Moreover, it can help identify bottlenecks in the operation and reduce development time.
Supply chain management can also be a real nightmare, primarily if the company employs thousands of people across different plants. Even for the best manager out there, ensuring that the flow of materials and people is always in optimal condition is an impossible task.
Digital Twin technology can help by running simulations in different scenarios. It can find problems through the entire supply chain and offer solutions to increase efficiency and improve overall decision-making.
The purpose of Digital Twin technology is to help companies test their products and processes in a virtual environment to reduce operating costs, increase productivity, and improve efficiency. All simulations are based on real-world data, allowing companies to increase ROI, reduce errors, automatize various processes and increase product quality. In short, DT technology is the way of the future, and the sooner you adopt it, the more success you will have in the future.