The modern factories of today are increasingly using digital twins and digital threads in their production lines. Their importance, no doubt, is increasing as they are key components of industrial digital transformation. They can empower engineers to try out unlimited design iterations, which can be tried in a virtual space, without stopping the production to look at how these designs can be developed into a product.
Definition: Digital twin
A digital twin can be considered a virtual representation of a physical object or a system. This representation or model can be used to simulate a real-world object or system and optimize it for performance. Let’s look at an example. A heavy machine manufacturer for the construction industry wants to optimize their excavator’s performance and reduce any costs on maintenance. To achieve this goal, they can create a digital twin of the excavator by collating data from sensors in it which can be on temperature, pressure, or vibration. This data can be used by AI-ML algorithms to create a virtual model of the excavator to simulate its behavior in real-world conditions. This model can be used to either predict behaviors, optimize system performance, or troubleshoot any issues.
Role of digital twin
The role of a digital twin is to help engineers test and confirm product quality and performance before it is developed and deployed in a real-world situation. It is a carbon copy of the product in a virtual environment and enables engineers to test new designs, optimize processes, and troubleshoot potential issues.
Digital twin benefits
Here is a summary of the benefits offered by digital twins:
- Simulate, and optimize the system or product performance and outcomes before development
- Detect and address potential issues even before they can occur
- More important of them all, it enables predictive maintenance to reduce equipment downtime or failure
- Evaluate new designs or optimize processes to enhance quality
- Ensure better control & monitoring of real-world systems
- Gain insights into behaviors of systems and objects & enable data-driven decisions
- Enable agility and flexibility and quickly adapt to market demands
- Improve efficiencies across the product lifecycle
Definition: Digital thread
What is a digital thread? Digital threads can be visualized as a data set that is connected and tracks the end-to-end product lifecycle. It has every information that can be leveraged for the product’s design, manufacture, and maintenance. This can be models, specifications, and data required for manufacturing and maintenance. Engineers can use digital threads to make informed decisions across the product lifecycle.
Role of digital thread
Digital threads ensure a consistent and cohesive flow of information to ensure stakeholders can make data-driven decisions across the product lifecycle. It is a communication framework to connect data and information across design, production, maintenance, and disposal stages. Due to data visibility, there is better collaboration and communication between production teams and stakeholders, reducing decision-making errors. Traceability and accountability are also high as there is a record of version changes, decisions, and actions taken through the lifecycle. Let’s look at an example. An aircraft engine manufacturing company is keen to optimize its engines’ design and production processes to improve its performance and reduce costs. They implement a digital thread to connect every information across the product lifecycle. This thread enables the company to use information such as design files, manufacturing processes, and maintenance records to optimize engine performance. The data from the thread can be used to detect areas that need design optimization to enable fuel efficiency or to reduce engine weight. The company will experience better collaboration between designers, engineers, and suppliers as they can share ideas and feedback and work together to optimize product performance. In case of any issues, such as discrepancies in engine quality, engineers can trace back through the digital threats to find the root causes and fix them.
Digital thread benefits
Digital thread benefits are many; here is a summary of the benefits offered by digital threads:
- End-to-end visibility of product data, enabling engineers to take actions to improve product features and quality
- Processes can be streamlined, reducing duplication of effort, saving time and reducing errors
- Better collaboration between teams allows them to share information and work together to solve problems.
- Real-time monitoring of product quality for faster addressal of any issues
- Customer needs can be quickly met leading to increase in loyalty
- Compliance needs are easily attained due to clear data trails during audits
How to shape the future of businesses with digital twin and digital thread
Digital twin and digital thread are here to enable a paradigm shift in how businesses operate and make them more competitive and innovative. Let’s look at a few ways in which they can be integrated.
Integrate across product lifecycle: Create a digital information flow, from design and development to manufacturing, maintenance, to end-of-life across the lifecycle. This will help gain insights into the product’s performance in real-time, what issues it might encounter and how to optimize its performance.
Adopt a data-driven approach: Since digital thread and digital twin can generate a huge volume of data, this can be used to make data-driven decisions. This data is analyzed using ML algorithms, and the derived insights can be used to optimize operations or identify areas for improvement.
Collaborate with partners and suppliers: they can facilitate collaboration among stakeholders, partners, and suppliers, enabling companies to share information and enhance supply chain efficiency.
Invest in talent and skills: Skilled professionals are needed to operate and manage these technologies. Companies must involve resources with skills in data analytics, machine learning, and digital twin technology.
Digital thread and digital twin are the key enablers of digital engineering as it provides a comprehensive and integrated view of the end-to-end product lifecycle. Though they have a different intents, they complement each other in driving innovation, increasing efficiency, and improving performance. Together they offer an integrated approach to digital engineering, enabling companies to stay ahead of the curve in evolving business environments. As they mature, more use cases and innovations will establish their value and impact across industries. By engaging with a digital thread engineer and engineering digital twin specialist, companies can ensure more efficient manufacturing and engineering processes.