What is a Digital Twin? What benefits can it provide me? Where could I get more information?

These are some of the questions we are asked when we talk to companies before they start thinking about investing in the digital transformation of their factory towards a smart model.

Sothis would like to respond to some of them and ensure that committing to the digital transformation of the company/factory towards becoming a Smart Factory is always a beneficial option.

The Automation and Control business unit and specifically the Factory Automation Department, wanted to answer some of the aforementioned questions and explain the next level of business automation in more detail and the increasing worldwide trend of implement these prediction and digitalisation technologies.

The current trend, in the business field of Spanish industry, is to invest in the Digital Transformation of business. This conceptually is understood as the ability to improve, optimise and evolve the different business functions, operational functions and productive functions using digital technologies.

Digital technologies are understood as those that are capable of generating, extracting, storing and processing useful data in real time from the factory itself (Big Data). The digital transformation is therefore the integration of such digital technology in all areas of the company. From a more industrial aspect, digital transformation is understood as “a new way of organising the means of production”, using new digital technologies and the interaction of digital data obtained from the company itself.

All this is possible thanks to the sensorisation of the factory, in other words, the conversion of the analogue information we have in it into digital information, so that it can be subsequently used.

The digital transformation of companies has the main objective of becoming a Smart Factory, a factory that is more respectful of the environment, since it will allow us to be able to adapt better to a changing economic scenario which is focused on product customisation, a more efficient allocation of energy and human resources, and flexible manufacturing to continuous market changes.

An easy way to summarise the benefits that digitalisation will provide us in the way companies work is that, in the past the data that was stored was analysed to find out what had happened and why it had happened, and now, with the use of digital technologies, the data is analysed in real time to predict what will happen.

Within this Smart Factory, and at a higher technological level of the industry´s current digitalisation trends, there is a control, simulation and prediction technology that is gradually being imposed worldwide given its great benefits, called Digital Twin.

Conceptually, a Digital Twin is a digital copy of the physical system (factory, product, people, machines…), a virtual representation of the factory or the process throughout its life cycle.

For the correct adaptation thereof, the Digital Twin must be fed by the real-time data that is extracted from all the physical assets that influence the production process, thanks to the fact that all of them have been digitalised, saved and processed (Big Data), and interact with other virtual data and interaction data between them. This specific information is based on the historical data of real use cases, so it is a great tool for analysing and understanding the different phases of the product and thus being able to optimise them.

There are many benefits that we can obtain with the use of a virtual representation of our company, and they are different and personalised to what each company seeks to control individually.

The purpose of having a virtual overview of the factory, and therefore the greatest benefit of all, is to be able to have control over all the factors and circumstances that influence the life cycle or production process of our product, and with them to simulate and evaluate productive scenarios to subsequently validate and replicate them in the Real Factory.

In this way, an optimisation of the process is achieved in real time (reducing the production cycle times…) and greater economic control (optimising the necessary energy resources, human resources, control of the cost of raw material, reduction of waste,…) of the whole life cycle.

With the use of this virtual work model, after simulating the most unfavourable production scenarios, we can predict the possible related bottlenecks, in addition to getting ahead and planning the preventive/corrective maintenance actions (predictive maintenance in advance).

Conceptually, the factory’s Digital Twin allows us to improve the understanding of the entire life cycle, learn from all the processes and subprocesses that are part of it and be able to distinguish in the search for global and individual improvements.

The theoretical operating architecture of a Digital Twin is reflected and illustrated below:

Currently, the possibility of managing this Virtual Factory through Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being developed, which, thanks to its calculation algorithms, could “learn” from historical usage data, and be able to control the actual production, even making their own simulations, validations and planning of the different cases that are found, foreseeing and preventing possible problems.

Another key challenge in the current industrial landscape is how companies can easily implement this technology, given the fact that most companies have investments in legacy systems that hinder implementation.

Throughout this industrial stage it remains to be seen whether factories become 100% digitalised and virtualised Smart Factories, and how AI and Augmented Reality is integrated together with this model to evolve working methodologies and facilitate people´s lives.

In the next article, we will discuss the different models/types of Digital Twins there are in more detail and which are currently viable for a possible implementation and which are still in development and evolving in new technologies to become a reality.

If you want more information on this topic, do not hesitate to contact us through our contact forms or at the email web@sothis.tech