Digital Twin in Manufacturing: A Complete Guide

Author: Ankitha VP
May 10, 2024
Digital Twin in Manufacturing: A Complete Guide

Inefficiencies in the complex area of present-day manufacturing can cause significant delays and monetary damages throughout the supply chain. Even if they are reliable, traditional systems can suffer from problems. 

These include unplanned machine failure, poor resource management, and a sluggish response to changes in the market. Organizations find it challenging to remain viable in the worldwide market as a result of these obstacles to development and performance improvement.

In light of this, digital twins in manufacturing have become a strategic necessity rather than just a solution. By providing manufacturers with a dynamic and predictive toolkit, this technology helps them overcome conventional constraints and reach previously unheard-of levels of operational knowledge and performance.

What is Digital Twin in Manufacturing?

A digital twin is basically a virtual representation of a physical asset or a process. It helps you build an exact replica of your asset or process and test it under different conditions to see how efficient it is. 

Suppose there is a company that manufactures a machine to make chocolates. They create a digital twin of that machine, which collects data on its performance, energy usage, maintenance, and other factors. These data are then used to analyze the machine's efficiency and make recommendations for optimizing its performance.

So what role do digital twins play in manufacturing?

That’s what we are here for. This blog will help you understand the benefits and application of digital twins in manufacturing, the challenges in implementing them, and more. 

Let’s get started. 

Evolution of Digital Twin Technology in Manufacturing

Digital twin technology has revolutionized manufacturing industries more than any other. It has completely changed how they designed, produced, and maintained products. The concept of Digital Twin was first coined by Dr. Michael Grieves in 2002. 

Though initially, the primary use of digital twins was in aerospace and defense, it has grown exponentially. The technology has spread across automotive, manufacturing, healthcare, and more industries. You can learn the use cases of digital twins and see why it is used across industries. 

Now, coming to digital twins in manufacturing. Technology has brought many benefits, which we will discuss in the next section. But to point out a few, they are reduced costs, increased operational efficiency, and improved product quality. 

Current Application Trends of Digital Twins in Manufacturing

The current landscape of digital twins in manufacturing is witnessing several exciting trends. Here are some key areas where digital twin applications are making a significant impact: 

Product Design and Development

Digital twins allow manufacturers to simulate and optimize product designs before physical production. This helps in reducing time-to-market and improving product performance. 

Discover the crucial role of the digital twin in the automotive industry. 

Production Optimization

A digital twin of the manufacturing process enables real-time monitoring, analysis, and optimization of production operations. Manufacturers can identify inefficiencies, streamline workflows, and enhance overall productivity. 

Predictive Maintenance

Digital twins leverage IoT sensors and data analytics to enable real-time product analysis. This predicting maintenance can help minimize downtime, extend asset lifespan, and reduce maintenance costs. 

Supply Chain Optimization

Digital twins provide end-to-end visibility into the supply chain. This allows manufacturers to optimize inventory levels, streamline logistics, and enhance collaboration with suppliers. This leads to improved responsiveness, reduced lead times, and better customer satisfaction. 

You can read more about how digital twins help with supply chain management

Worker Safety and Training 

By simulating virtual work environments, manufacturers can ensure the safety of their workers. In addition, they can use the virtual environment to train their employees without endangering them. This not only helps reduce accidents and empower worker skills. 

See how digital twins help enhance worker training in the automotive industry. 

The above-mentioned are a few of the current applications of digital twins in manufacturing. Now, let's discuss the benefits the technology brings to the table.

4 Benefits of Digital Twins in Manufacturing

The following are four key benefits manufacturers gain by using digital twins. 

1. Operational Efficiency 

Manufacturers can create a digital twin of their production process, streamlining the processes. By providing a real-time replica of the operations, they can identify the inefficiencies and potential risks in the process. Thus it helps them optimize the process and increase operational efficiency. 

For example, suppose you're running a car assembly line. With a digital twin, you could run simulations to determine the optimal sequence for assembling the parts and find bottlenecks. 

Also, it helps with predicting maintenance needs before machines break down. This means less downtime, faster production, and, ultimately, a more efficient operation. 

Suggested Read: The Role of Digital Twins in Electric Vehicles 

2. Cost Reduction 

Digital twins can save companies a significant amount of money. Think about a company that manufactures aerospace components. These parts are often extremely complex and expensive to produce. 

With a digital twin, the company can experiment with different production methods or materials in a virtual environment before implementing changes in the real world. This could mean fewer prototypes, less wasted material, and a cheaper, more efficient production process. 

3. Risk Management 

Digital twins are excellent tools for managing risks in manufacturing. 

Picture a pharmaceutical company that produces vaccines. Production errors can have serious consequences both financially and in terms of public health. But by using a digital twin, the company can monitor its production process in real time. 

They can identify potential issues before they become problems and simulate responses to various risk scenarios. This proactive approach can help avoid costly recalls and production downtime. 

4. Enhanced Predictive Maintenance

One key advantage of using digital twins in manufacturing is improved predictive maintenance. The way facilities maintain and operate their machines is being revolutionized by this technology. Digital twins aid in the early detection of equipment breakdowns by providing continuous examination of its conditions. 

The implementation of a proactive approach is crucial in mitigating unplanned downtime. Hence yielding significant cost savings and augmenting overall productivity. 

Additionally, manufacturers may improve their maintenance cycles because of Digital Twins' real-time insights regarding mechanical wear and tear. By increasing the lifespan of machinery and ensuring that it runs well for extended periods of time, this well-informed scheduling helps businesses protect their capital investments. 

This example of how Digital Twins support greener manufacturing methods is the twofold benefit of prolonging the lifespan of machines and decreasing delay.

5. Product Quality 

Last but not least, digital twins can help enhance the products' quality. For instance, a watch company could use a digital twin to simulate the assembly process, adjust tolerances, or test different materials. This way, they can identify the best methods to achieve the desired precision and quality. 

The result? A watch that keeps time beautifully looks stunning and lasts for generations.

Even though digital twins offer the above benefits, implementing the technology still poses some challenges. Let’s check them and see how to overcome them. 

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Challenges and Solutions in Implementing Digital Twin Technology

Challenge 1 - Data Management

A digital twin has to be an accurate representation of the physical counterpart. And for that, it requires massive amounts of data. The data can include sensitive information. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure high-level safety. 

Mounting to this challenge, companies need to collect, store, process, and analyze these data in real time as well. 

Solution - 

The key here is to use robust data management platforms and practices. Cloud-based storage solutions are an option. It can provide the necessary capacity and scalability to handle this data. Also, implementing advanced analytics can help analyze the data more effectively. 

For example, Amazon Web Services (AWS) provides cloud computing services that handle large-scale data management for digital twin applications. 

Challenge 2 - Integration with Existing Systems

Digital twins need to integrate seamlessly with a company's existing IT infrastructure. This includes ERP, PLM, MES, and other systems. Depending on the compatibility of the systems, this can be quite complex. 

Solution - 

Choosing a digital twin platform that offers broad compatibility and interoperability is crucial. It's best to partner with or hire experienced IT professionals to help you with this process. They will have a dedicated team well-versed in the DOs and Don'ts, accelerating the process. 

If you take Siemens, for instance, they have their digital twin technology that easily integrates with many existing manufacturing and IT systems. 

Challenge 3 - High Costs

It's expensive to create, implement and maintain a digital twin. This is mainly because of the cost of the sensors, software, and computing resources required for the process. 

In addition to this, there exist personnel costs for data scientists and other specialists. With digital twins being a relatively new tech, it will also be harder to onboard experts in the field. 

Solution - 

The best approach is to start small and scale up. Begin by implementing digital twins for specific processes or machinery, and then expand as you see the benefits and ROI. 

Additionally, leveraging scalable and cost-effective cloud services can help manage expenses. Since building an in-house team is harder and more costly, it will be better to partner with a digital twin company. 

Challenge 4 - Scalability Issues

Scalability is a significant challenge for companies aiming to expand their digital twin usage due to the need for extensive resources, skilled people and diverse operations. It is critical to guarantee that the Digital Twin technology can expand to encompass larger and more complex manufacturing settings while maintaining optimal performance.

Solution -

Selecting a Digital Twin platform that is designed with scalability in mind is crucial to addressing scalability. Modular components should be used in the planning of manufacturers' Digital Twin strategies. 

When additional sections of the manufacturing process are brought online, this strategy makes expansion easier. Working with technology partners like Toobler, who comprehend the unique characteristics of growing digital technologies in industrial settings and can offer continuing support and updates as demands evolve, can also be beneficial for manufacturers.

Challenge 5 - Skills Gap 

This is something we have already said in the previous challenge. Like how app developers were scarce two decades ago, the number of experts in digital twins is relatively low. 

Furthermore, implementing and operating digital twins requires a specific skill set. The skills include data science, IoT, machine learning, and more. Most organizations have a significant skill gap, making it a crucial challenge to implement digital twins.

 Solution - 

One way is to provide comprehensive training and development for current staff. OR hire personnel with the necessary skills. Alternatively, companies can partner with external tech firms or with the required expertise. For example, Toobler offers services to help businesses implement and manage digital twins.

Though there are challenges that seem daunting, you can overcome them with the discussed solutions. And as more and more companies learn about the benefits of digital twins, more solutions will be available. This means challenges like high cost and skill gap will lower considerably. 

This brings us to the next section, which is the future of digital twins in manufacturing. 

Challenges in Implementing Digital Twins and How to Overcome Them

Like any technology, digital twins aren't without their challenges. But as the saying goes, "Every problem has a solution," right? So, let's take a look at some of the hurdles and how they can be overcome. 

Challenge 1: Data Complexity

Digital twins are data-hungry. They need a ton of information to work effectively. Managing and interpreting this amount of data can be challenging. Plus, remember, you need quality data. Bad data in, bad results out! 

Solution: Implement robust data management practices. You might need to invest in advanced analytics, machine learning, or AI tools to help. And don't forget to maintain data quality - ensure it's accurate, timely, and relevant. 

Challenge 2: Integration Issues

Your digital twin isn't an island. It needs to integrate with your other systems and software. Sometimes, this isn't as smooth as we'd like it to be. 

Solution: Plan ahead for integration. Look for digital twin solutions that play well with others. Interoperability is key here. A good practice is to involve your IT department from the early stages to ensure smooth integration. 

Challenge 3: Technical Expertise

Implementing a digital twin isn't a walk in the park. It requires some technical know-how. 

Solution: Invest in training for your team. You might also need to bring on board new talent with the necessary skills. 

Challenge 4: Security Concerns

With great data comes great responsibility. Your digital twin could be a goldmine for cybercriminals. 

Solution: You'll need to take cybersecurity seriously. Implement robust security measures, including encryption and secure access controls. Regularly review and update your security policies and practices. 

Challenge 5: Cost Implications

Implementing digital twin technology can be a significant investment. 

Solution: Here's where you need to think long-term. Yes, there's an upfront cost, but the efficiency and productivity gains can be substantial. 

The challenges we mentioned are a few, among them many. Read more to check out the complete list of challenges of implementing digital twins and how to solve them. 

With careful planning, the right tools, and a dedicated team, businesses can overcome these challenges and leverage the power of digital twins.

Examples of Digital Twins in Manufacturing

General Electric (GE) -

GE created a digital twin of a gas turbine that enabled them to predict gas turbine failure with an accuracy rate of 99%. This helped minimize downtime, decrease maintenance costs, and ensure the gas turbine operated safely. 

Airbus -

AirbusAirbus uses digital twins to help them simulate and optimize many aspects of aircraft design and production. They use predictive models created by collecting real-time data from sensors in various parts of the production line. This helps them predict how the production process will work and identify potential problems before they occur. 

BMW - 

BMW has used digital twins to improve the manufacturing processes in its engine plant. A digital twin of their production process allowed them to identify inefficiencies and make improvements. In doing so, they reduced the manufacturing time for an engine from 28 hours to 15 hours. 

Volvo -

volvoVolvo has implemented a virtual twin of their vehicles to test its design. The twin allows them to test the entire functionality and performance of the new designs before physically implementing them. Thus it helps shorten lead times. 

Also, Volvo CE, a construction equipment subsidiary of Volvo, has a doctoral project aiming to virtualize all products, systems, and components. By doing so, they are aiming to altogether avoid physical prototyping.

These examples illustrate how leading companies are harnessing the power of Digital Twin to improve their manufacturing operations. Technology is paving the way for smarter, more efficient, and more sustainable manufacturing.

Follow the link to learn more about digital twin examples.

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Create Your Digital Twin

As you can see from the examples, companies have already implemented digital twins into their workflow. Meaning, the importance of Digital Twin in manufacturing is no longer a distant future prospect but a present-day reality. 

Businesses are ever-evolving, and the strategic application of digital twins is an integral part of this. Not just in manufacturing but also in sectors like construction, healthcare, and more. 

Start small and scale up. Partner with experts in the field to speed up the process. But while doing so, it is crucial to choose the right digital twin company. A partner who understands your unique needs can help you overcome the technological complexities and unlock the full potential of the technology. 

Therefore partner with companies like Toobler. Their team of experts will help you create, implement and maintain digital twins with ease. They also have dedicated IoT developers who can craft solutions that help to bridge the gap between the physical and digital. 

Want to discuss your doubts and concerns? Get in touch with our experts.