The manufacturing industry is fast becoming a place where the virtual and physical are interconnected, to improve operational efficiency and commercial performance. Rapid advances in technology are enabling forward-thinking organisations to streamline processes, improve customer service and get more from existing systems and infrastructure… all while reducing costs.

Within this new generation of industry-transforming technologies, ‘digital twinning’ is emerging as a popular application on the production line1. The concept involves mapping a physical asset, such as a machine, to a digital platform. This allows manufacturers to gather insightful data from sensors installed on the asset, to assess performance in real-time2.

As more organisations invest in smart equipment and digital capabilities to maintain competitive advantage, digital twinning is gaining prominence in the industrial environment.

It’s one of the biggest current technical trends: analysts predict that 85% of IoT-enabled platforms will feature digital twin functionality by 20222.

So, how does it work?

Manage assets without disruption

Digital twinning creates the ability to virtualise maintenance tasks by producing a digital representation of a particular physical asset. It does this by generating digital renderings which are viewed using computers, tablets or mobile devices. Data is then sent to this virtual representation, so engineers can gauge the condition, performance and history of the physical asset and make updates and amends, without tampering with the physical asset itself.

In this way, organisations can determine the intervention and maintenance required to optimise the performance of an asset and maximise its useful lifespan, before carrying out any work to the asset itself. This prevents unnecessary disruption and downtime, and also means the best-informed decisions can be made regarding the asset.

As well as these immediate operational and financial gains, digital twinning will deliver increasing returns as technology evolves. As we connect more IoT endpoints, devices and physical assets within the factory, twinning will be crucial in enabling us to turn raw data into invaluable insights2.

For example, real-time feedback from IOT sensors positioned across the factory floor can be read by assets’ digital twins to reliably assess ther impact of a change in factors such as product quality, production rates, environmental changes and so on. This insight can play a vital role in supporting business growth and innovation – through the construction of new plants and production lines, the management of assets and the testing of final products.

Saving money throughout the production cycle

 Consider predictive maintenance as an example. This is where sensors continuously collect machine data, which is used to assess the condition of parts, the status of production loads and expected lifespans. Digital twinning gives machine operators the power to accurately calculate the best time for maintenance, by identifying the perfect balance between avoiding serious machine faults and unnecessary downtime2.

In this way, plant managers can use digital twinning data to predict possible breakdowns before they happen, and intervene accordingly. Similarly, when designers are developing new equipment to go online, their prototypes can be tested and updated virtually before going to the expense and effort of building and operating them physically3. This creates a raft of associated benefits for your organisation. Because digital twins can replicate essential machines and production line activities, you would be able to train maintenance engineers regarding how to take apart and repair these machines, in the right order and using the right parts – all without impacting existing physical equipment.

This capability has huge potential for process-driven industries like chemicals and food production. Given the high volume of units involved, and the health and safety connotations, it is simply too expensive to set up extra production lines as back up, for testing and support alone. It’s cost-prohibitive.

Here, digital twinning creates a viable solution – and the potential savings are enormous. For example, unlike conventional product development, physical prototypes are built late in the process, so changes are not as easy to implement as they are extremely expensive. In contrast, digital representations contain all product data and information required for testing and assessment.

It’s time to twin

Digital twinning is making a big impression in manufacturing: and it has many clear benefits. In such a competitive market, where digitisation can make a crucial difference, it represents an opportunity to save money and simplify operations while getting greater productivity from existing investments. This hybrid world of virtual and physical is undoubtedly where the future of manufacturing lies2.