Seeing double in manufacturing

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Formula 1 driving can be dangerous, as weather or malfunctions can cause fatal accidents. Teams are solving this problem by getting drivers to test racecourses in a virtual car. As automation is integrated into more factories, manufacturing has evolved to mix physical and virtual objects, just like racing. Here Jonathan Wilkins, marketing director at industrial automation equipment supplier, EU Automation, discusses how the latest industrial trend, digital twinning, is shaping the future of manufacturing.

It may seem odd for drivers to test racetracks online rather than in person. However, sensors can collect analytic data about the conditions of any racetrack across the world and create those conditions on one computer. Drivers can interact with any weather condition and monitor their cars before entering the race to reduce accidents. But, where does the technology originate from?

Industry experts predicted that Industry 4.0 would connect the physical world to the digital. To bring these two together, manufacturers developed smarter, better connected machines that use Big Data, machine-to-machine (M2M) communication and machine learning to optimise productivity.

While Industry 4.0 is not a new concept, it has increased in popularity over recent years. New technology, such as sensors and computer-aided design, have become cheaper and more readily accessible, meaning that any sized company can benefit from this new wave of industry.

Before the introduction of these intelligent, automated systems, manufacturers relied on on-site monitoring to establish the efficiency of each asset on the factory floor. However, introducing new technologies and innovations, digital twinning in particular, can ease work for manufacturers.

What is digital twinning?

Digital twinning is the mapping of a physical asset to a digital platform, where it can be used for various purposes. The digital twin uses data from sensors located on the physical asset to analyse its efficiency, working condition and real-time status.

The collected data shows all of the physical properties and functions of the asset throughout its lifecycle. The twin can also be used to monitor machinery and simulate production based on the condition of the equipment.

Manufacturers program the models with decentralised decision-making that learns from data to provide suggestions and make accurate decisions with the aim of streamlining production.

Manufacturers can use digital twins to monitor construction of plants, manage assets and to test its final products. Larger factories benefit from this as manufacturers can monitor and streamline all aspects of production from one place.

Predictive maintenance

Manufacturers should compare the incoming real-time data to that of similar parts and data that was collected when the asset was at optimal functionality. From this, they can detect any drops in productivity or predict potential breakdowns.

Engineers can test potential adaptations to the system on the digital twin to determine which will result in success, ensuring a quick and efficient response and reducing the risk of downtime. If a fault is imminent, businesses can order parts from companies that source automation components before the fault occurs, reducing the risk of downtime caused by broken machinery.

Design

Digital twins can optimise processes across the factory, helping workers to operate more efficiently, particularly design engineers. Historically, designers had little opportunity to test and amend their prototypes. However digital twinning allows manufacturers to edit a virtual prototype throughout the production process.

Trialling changes and new ideas on a digital twin cuts out the cost of physical prototypes. After analysing simulations, the final construction is more efficient, which reduces development time and costs.

Prototypes can also be adapted from the improved accessibility that digital twins offer. By sharing prototypes online, engineering partners worldwide can offer a perspective and advice on how to improve the project from the comfort of their offices.

Remote access to the digital twin also makes it is easy to collaborate between departments and companies. Using a digital twin from the inception of a project allows manufacturers, designers and customers to collaborate and adapt from an early stage, without expensive costs of meetings.

As well as reducing the prototypes required to finish construction, manufacturers can reduce the number of product prototypes. This reduces the production cost of each component as well as speeding up the time to market, optimising each product lifecycle. All businesses benefit from this as it makes it cheaper for large companies to produce in bulk, but also gives small businesses more opportunities to enter the larger markets.

Human interaction

As robots are more accurate and efficient than human workers, machines may start to carry out lower level jobs. However, robots completing these jobs allows humans to work on more technical and creative projects.

Workers should be trained for new jobs that require more technical skills. Plant managers can train a workforce using digital twins to test different scenarios. Workers can then apply their knowledge to the factory floor.

As well as keeping workers safe, a digital twin can ensure that all product lines, projects and facilities meet safety regulations. Data from other plants and production lines is available to the digital twin to ensure that new projects meet industry standards. The digital twin can also test potential scenarios to see what choices will be the safest and most efficient for workers and production.

Digital wind farms

General Electric (GE) is a company that relies on digital twinning to build and maintain its wind farms. Virtual models allow engineers to monitor and control the turbines, identifying problems before they occur.

Its virtual plant contains an energy forecasting application that integrates with the twin and predicts power outputs. The digital turbines control their physical twins allowing them to adapt to environmental conditions. This reduces forecast-to-actual deviation penalties and increases annual power generation.

Future potential

The benefits of digital twinning are being reaped across sectors, such as pharmaceuticals and oil and gas. This is predicted to increase in a report released by Orbis Research, which suggests that by 2022, up to 85 per cent of all Internet of Things (IoT) platforms will contain some form of digital twinning.

The technology has boosted productivity in manufacturing by providing real-time production data, allowing businesses to remain competitive and meet customer demand. This means companies don’t have to worry about their technology becoming outdated.

Digital twins help manufacturers improve business with optimised production in a safe and efficient plant. More industries are now adopting this technology after seeing its success in manufacturing.

Racing virtually in any road or weather condition while monitoring the car’s efficiency makes Formula 1 enhances driver’s capabilities and keeps them safe — could it do the same on your factory floor?

Jonathan Wilkins, marketing director, EU Automation
Image Credit: EU Automation