What is Digital Twin Technology and How Can It Benefit Manufacturing?

Understanding what is happening now on your production line, and predicting what will happen in the future, is essential to maximising OEE, overall manufacturing productivity, and business profitability. This is exactly what you can achieve with digital twin technologies.

Digital twin technology is one of the most important Industry 4.0 technologies currently available. Digital twins give you insights into all aspects of your production line and manufacturing process at a level you have never had before.

You can then use these insights to make better decisions plus you can automate the decision-making process with dynamic recalibration of equipment, production lines, processes, and systems.

What Is Digital Twin Technology?

A digital twin uses virtual and augmented reality as well as 3D graphic and data modelling to build a virtual model of a process, system, service, product or other physical objects. This digital twin is an exact replica of the physical world. Its exact replica status is maintained through real-time updates.

It is a technology that is applicable to a wide range of environments, including the monitoring of products while they are in use and throughout their life cycle. An example is an aircraft engine.

In manufacturing, you can use a digital twin at various levels:

  • Component level – focused on a single, highly critical component within the manufacturing process
  • Asset level – creating a digital twin of a single piece of equipment within a production line
  • System level – using a digital twin to monitor and improve an entire production line
  • Process level – this looks at the entire manufacturing process from product and process design and development, to manufacturing and production, to distribution and use of the finished product by customers/patients throughout the entire life cycle and for the development of future products.

How Does Digital Twin Technology Work?

A digital twin comprises three main elements:

  • Past data – historical performance data of individual machines, overall processes, and specific systems
  • Present data – real-time data from equipment sensors, outputs from manufacturing platforms and systems, outputs from systems throughout the distribution chain, and outputs from systems in other business units including customer service and purchasing
  • Future data – machine learning as well as inputs from engineers

What Can You Do with a Digital Twin?

A digital twin firstly lets you monitor a manufacturing component, asset, system, or process in real-time. This gives a deeper understanding of what is happening on your production lines and in the wider manufacturing process.

With machine learning and inputs from expert engineers, you can also use the digital twin to identify problems before they occur and predict outcomes for the future. This includes outcomes within existing parameters as well as outcomes if those parameters change.

Digital twin technology supports other Industry 4.0 technologies too, and can benefit predictive maintenance, improve OEE, reduce waste, improve batch changeover times, improve product quality, enhance traceability, and more.  It allows for efficient design and development, linking three-dimensional models with simulation and emulation of equipment control code.

In addition, having a digital twin enables virtual troubleshooting and support, removing the physical restraints of expert engineers having to be at your location.  This technology can also form the basis for customer interactive dynamic supply chains.

Remember, the above are just some of the things you can achieve using digital twin technologies. There are also manufacturing process development advantages, product development advantages, distribution chain efficiency advantages, and more.

The Benefits of Digital Twin Technology

The benefits that digital twin technologies offer your business include:

  • Increased reliability of equipment and production lines
  • Improved OEE through reduced downtime and improved performance
  • Improved productivity
  • Reduced risk in various areas including product availability, marketplace reputation, and more
  • Lower maintenance costs by predicting maintenance issues before breakdowns occur
  • Faster production times
  • New business opportunities such as mass customisation, mixed manufacturing, small-batch manufacturing, and more
  • Improved customer service as customers can remotely configuring customised products
  • Improved product quality, and enhanced insight into the performance of your products, in multiple real-time applications and environments
  • More efficient supply and delivery chains
  • All the above combined will result in the ultimate benefit of improved profits

Where to Next?

Digital twin technologies are available now and can bring the above benefits to your business in the short-term as well as the medium and long-term. Plus, the use of digital twins is a growing trend.

To remain competitive, the time to start analysing and implementing this new and potentially disruptive technology is now.

Charlie Murphy

Charlie is SL Control’s Factory Automation Manager. He has over 24 years' industrial experience including in the Consumer (Electronics) and Medical Device industries. He has extensive experience partnering with R&D organisations in the design, development and procurement of high-volume automation requirements to support manufacturing capacity and NPIs. Charlie’s team specialises in Industry 4.0 Digital Maturity Assessments and developing technical roadmaps and value propositions.

View all posts by Charlie Murphy