I recently covered the concept of Digital Thread and how it is one way the Manufacturing sector is riding the Industry 4.0 wave. To explore the interplay of the Digital Twin and Digital Thread concepts, let’s start with a simple definition of a Digital Twin.
“Virtual products [that] are rich representations of products that are virtually indistinguishable from their physical counterparts.”1
A Digital Thread starts with the ability to transmit a comprehensive picture of a product through a combination of bill of material (BOM) part attribute details and CAD data to create the visual model of the product. This Digital Thread becomes the digital foundation for building a Digital Twin model.
Consider a few potential use cases of a virtual twin of a product in a manufacturing environment and also service operations:
- Digital simulation of the entire assembly line process (using actual product dimensions and all the associate parts and materials involved) to detect assembly line inefficiencies, plan assembly line layouts and identify resource movements for optimization.
- Visual identification of conflicts in the assembly process, such as missing parts, wrong steps in assembly or tolerance infractions by overlaying the digital twin on the physical product.
- · A Digital Twin of the product in the field can be the virtual platform to record and update the as-maintained BOM of that particular serial numbered asset.
- A Digital Twin model as an exact replica of a particular asset serial number could consume live sensor data and show the physical products’ actual operating health within a virtual model environment for troubleshooting, predictive maintenance evaluation and also for training.
- The Digital Twin model, as a virtual repository of a physical product’s maintenance history and technical data, can be the single source of truth to a field or depot technician in how to maintain, service or modify a particular asset through visualization. This might include other technology, such as virtual 3D glasses or 3D manipulation through virtual touch gloves.
Most of the major Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) systems are rapidly pursuing the ability to create and manage Digital Twins throughout a product’s lifecycle. How these virtual twin models will be consumed by manufacturing systems and service systems (for training, publications and MRO software as examples) is still evolving.
The key to unlock the real value is in harnessing, managing and manipulating the rich Digital Thread data of a product. As was mentioned in the previous Digital Thread blog, having a robust engineering change management process can ensure that the Digital Twin maintains the as-designed and built configurations. The other piece of the Digital Twin puzzle is the ability to manage big data due to the amount of federated data amongst design partners and suppliers to ensure that as the product evolves so does its digital twin. Lastly, the most challenging aspect of ensuring Digital Twin accuracy will be in collecting the as-maintained configuration information from operators of the products. Being able to overcome data sharing and intellectual property issues to have an exact digital replica of the product in the field. Lots of challenges in managing the data from a process and ownership view, however the good news is that the technology is mature enough to handle this new world order in Industry 4.0.
Capgemini is speaking at Aviation Week’s MRO Americas on the topic of predictive analytics, including the Digital Thread / Twin models in “The (R)evolution of Predictive Operations & Maintenance.” Learn more here.
1Dr. Michael Grieves, Whitepaper: Digital Twin: Manufacturing Excellence through Virtual Factory Replication, 2014.