You’ve probably heard a lot about digital twins lately. And with good reason. They’re an essential part of any company’s digital transformation. But what are digital twins and why do people want them?
What is the Definition of a Digital Twin?
Simply put, a digital twin is a virtual representation of a product or process. This means that you can create your production line virtually before building it in the real world to see how it will work and what issues may arise.
Once the production line is up and running in the real world sensors on the line can feed data to its digital twin. The digital twin can then be used to analyse how well the line is running and make predictions, based on how it’s run in the past, on how it’ll run in the future.
The results of the analysis can be turned into actions in the real world. For example, oven temperatures could be adjusted on the production line or replacement parts could be requested and maintenance scheduled.
With enough data you can even run scenarios to see how your production line will be affected under different circumstances.
The Benefits of a Digital Twin
Defining a digital twin is easy. Listing all of the benefits takes a bit longer. Below are just a few of the major benefits of using a digital twin of your products, plants and processes:
- Faster New Product Introduction (NPI): By utilising a digital twin you can replicate the planned production process of your new product and game out all the scenarios of what could go wrong before you even start to build your production line. This prevents costly adjustments later on when physical rather than digital equipment needs to be adjusted.
- Reduced Downtime: Digital twins of your equipment can know how long that equipment is expected to run for, based on past data, before it requires maintenance. If the twin is being fed with current data from the real equipment then it can modify its estimate based on its deterioration. This predictive maintenance allows you to plan maintenance during existing stoppages and avoid breakdowns which reduces downtime.
- Reduced Scrap and Rework Costs: A digital twin of your product can be thrown through your manufacturing processes to predict where issues may arise. By utilising data from previous product production runs you can see where similar issues are likely to arise with your next product. The digital twin of a production line doesn’t need to live in isolation. By training it with data from other production line processes it becomes better equipped to predict and reduce scrap and rework.
- Predict Gains/Losses of Modifying Production: With enough data on your equipment, processes and products you can calculate whether making adjustments to your manufacturing process are financially viable. If you run that piece of equipment 10% faster will the benefits outweigh the costs of more frequent maintenance? Don’t forget, the digital twin doesn’t just utilise physical data – one of its biggest benefits is in its ability to integrate financial data, such as the cost of materials and labor.
- Reduced Training Costs: Using augmented reality live video of equipment on the plant floor is overlaid with information fed from the digital twin. This could include the current status of various components or it could guide an engineer through repair procedures. The use of augmented reality can greatly reduce training requirements and raise the efficiency of people working on the production line.
- Improved Supply Chain Management: Moving beyond your plant, a digital twin of the supply chain feeding into your manufacturing processes can be tweaked and fine-tuned so that procurement, logistic and delivery can be predicted and optimised. Sharing data with your suppliers will allow you to extend and strengthen the digital thread of your products so you can make the right tactical and strategic decisions with the best information available, reducing costs and supporting your Supply Chain Management (SCM).
ATS and Digital Twins
So when will ATS enter into this world of digital twins? Well, we’ve been there for quite a while. ATS Inspect, ATS CM4D and ATS Bus all work with components of the digital twin concept.
ATS Inspect: When an operator finds quality issues on a product in the real world they can record them on the digital twin of the product, such as a CAD model. This can gradually build up an increasingly accurate picture of how well the product is being manufactured and where adjustments may need to be made in the design or production process.
ATS CM4D: With ATS CM4D the digital twin of a product is created by recording its real world dimensional data. The digital twin can then be compared to the original CAD designs to check that the product has been built within tolerances. It can also be compared to the digital twin of another component that it’s going to be connected to to ensure everything will align.
ATS Bus: Digital twins are nothing on their own. The data needs to be brought together across the plant. ATS Bus enables this by providing a bridge between all of the systems, sensors and actuators, providing a platform upon which the full benefits of digital twins can be realised.
As the quality and volume of available data increases the value of digital twins continues to increase and ATS will be there to ensure that manufacturers can make the most of it.