After the series about “Learning from the past,” it is time to start looking towards the future.  I learned from several discussions that I am probably working most of the time with advanced companies. I believe this would motivate companies that lag behind even to look into the future even more.

If you look into the future for your company, you need new or better business outcomes. That should be the driver for your company. A company does not need PLM or a Digital Twin. A company might want to reduce its time to market, improve collaboration between all stakeholders. These objectives can be realized by different ways of working and an IT-infrastructure to allow these processes to become digital and connected.

That is the “game”. Coming back to the future of PLM.  We do not need a discussion about definitions; I leave this to the academics and vendors. We will see the same applies to the concept of a Digital Twin.

My statement: The digital twin is not new. Everybody can have their own digital twin as long as you interpret the definition differently. Does this sound like the PLM definition?

The definition

I like to follow the Gartner definition:

A digital twin is a digital representation of a real-world entity or system. The implementation of a digital twin is an encapsulated software object or model that mirrors a unique physical object, process, organization, person, or other abstraction. Data from multiple digital twins can be aggregated for a composite view across a number of real-world entities, such as a power plant or a city, and their related processes.

As you see, not a narrow definition. Now we will look at the different types of interpretations.

Single-purpose siloed Digital Twins

  1. Simple – data only

One of the most straightforward applications of a digital twin is, for example, my Garmin Connect environment. When cycling, my device registers performance parameters (speed, cadence, power, heartbeat, location). After every trip, I can analyze my performance. I can see changes in my overall performance; compare my performance with others in my category (weight, age, sex).

Based on that, I can decide if I want to improve my performance. My personal business goal is to maintain and improve my overall performance, knowing I cannot stop aging by upgrading my body.

On November 4th, 2020, I am participating in the (almost virtual) Digital Twin conference organized by Bits&Chips in the Netherlands. In the context of human performance, I look forward to Natal van Riel’s presentation: Towards the metabolic digital twin – for sure, this direction is not simple. Natal is a full professor at the Technical University in Eindhoven, the “smart city” in the Netherlands

  1. Medium – data and operating models

Many connected devices in the world use the same principle. An airplane engine, an industrial robot, a wind turbine, a medical device, and a train carriage; all track the performance based on this connection between physical and virtual, based on some sort of digital connectivity.

The business case here is also monitoring performance, predict maintenance, and upgrade the product when needed.

This is the domain of Asset Lifecycle Management, a practice that exists for decades. Based on financial and performance models, the optimal balance between maintaining and overhaul has to be found. Repairs are disruptive and can be extremely costly. A manufacturing site that cannot produce can costs millions per day. Connecting data between the physical and the virtual model allows us to have real-time insights and be proactive. It becomes a digital twin.

  1. Advanced – data and connected 3D model

The ditial twin we see the most in marketing videos is a virtual twin, using a 3D-representation for understanding and navigation.  The 3D-representation provides a Virtual Reality (VR) environment with connected data. When pointing at the virtual components, information might appear, or some animation takes place.

Building such a virtual representation is a significant effort; therefore, there needs to be a serious business case.

The simplest business case is to use the virtual twin for training purposes. A flight simulator provides a virtual environment and behavior as-if you are flying in the physical airplane – the behavior model behind the simulator should match as good as possible the real behavior. However, as it is a model, it will never be 100 % reality and requires updates when new findings or product changes appear.

A virtual model of a platform or plant can be used for training on Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). In the physical world, there is no place or time to conduct such training. Here the complexity might be lower. There is a 3D Model; however, serious updates can only be expected after a major maintenance or overhaul activity.

These practices are not new either and are used in places where the physical training cannot be done.

More challenging is the Augmented Reality (AR) use case. Here the virtual model, most of the time, a lightweight 3D Model, connects to real-time data coming from other sources. For example, AR can be used when an engineer has to service a machine. The AR-environment might project actual data from the machine, indicate service points and service procedures.

The positive side of the business case is clear for such an opportunity, ensuring service engineers always work with the right information in a real-time context. The main obstacle for implementing AR, in reality, is the access to data, the presentation of the data and keeping the data in the AR-environment matching the reality.

And although there are 3D Models in use, they are, to my knowledge, always created in siloes, not yet connected to their design sources.Have a look at the Digital Twin conference from Bits&Chips, as mentioned before.

Several of the cases mentioned above will be discussed here. The conference’s target is to share real cases concluded by Q & A sessions, crucial for a virtual event.

Connected Virtual Twins along the product lifecycle

So far, we have been discussing the virtual twin concept, where we connect a product/system/person in the physical world to a virtual model. Now let us zoom in on the virtual twins relevant for the early parts of the product lifecycle, the manufacturing twin, and the development twin. This image from Siemens illustrates the concept:

On slides they imagine a complete integrated framework, which is the future vision. Let us first zoom in on the individual connected twins.

The digital production twin

This is the area of virtual manufacturing and creating a virtual model of the manufacturing plant. Virtual manufacturing planning is not a new topic. DELMIA (Dassault Systèmes) and Tecnomatix (Siemens) are already for a long time offering virtual manufacturing planning solutions.

At that time, the business case was based on the fact that the definition of a manufacturing plant and process done virtually allows you to optimize the plant before investing in physical assets.

Saving money as there is no costly prototype phase to optimize production. In a virtual world, you can perform many trade-off studies without extra costs. That was the past (and for many companies still the current situation).

With the need to be more flexible in manufacturing to address individual customer orders without increasing the overhead of delivering these customer-specific solutions, there is a need for a configurable plant that can produce these individual products (batch size 1).

This is where the virtual plant model comes into the picture again. Instead of having a virtual model to define the ultimate physical plant, now the virtual model remains an active model to propose and configure the production process for each of these individual products in the physical plant.

This is partly what Industry 4.0 is about. Using a model-based approach to configure the plant and its assets in a connected manner. The digital production twin drives the execution of the physical plant. The factory has to change from a static factory to a dynamic “smart” factory.

In the domain of Industry 4.0, companies are reporting progress. However, to my experience, the main challenge is still that the product source data is not yet built in a model-based, configurable manner. Therefore, requiring manual rework. This is the area of Model-Based Definition, and I have been writing about this aspect several times. Latest post: Model-Based: Connecting Engineering and Manufacturing

The business case for this type of digital twin, of course, is to be able to customer-specific products with extremely competitive speed and reduced cost compared to standard. It could be your company’s survival strategy. As it is hard to predict the future, as we see from COVID-19, it is still crucial to anticipate the future, instead of waiting.

The digital development twin

Before a product gets manufactured, there is a product development process. In the past, this was pure mechanical with some electronic components. Nowadays, many companies are actually manufacturing systems as the software controlling the product plays a significant role. In this context, the model-based systems engineering approach is the upcoming approach to defining and testing a system virtually before committing to the physical world.

Model-Based Systems Engineering can define a single complex product and perform all kinds of analysis on the system even before there is a physical system in place.  I will explain more about model-based systems engineering in future posts. In this context, I want to stress that having a model-based system engineering environment combined with modularity (do not confuse it with model-based) is a solid foundation for dealing with unique custom products. Solutions can be configured and validated against their requirements already during the engineering phase.

The business case for the digital development twin is easy to make. Shorter time to market, improved and validated quality, and reduced engineering hours and costs compared to traditional ways of working. To achieve these results,  for sure, you need to change your ways of working and the tools you are using. So it won’t be that easy!

For those interested in Industry 4.0 and the Model-Based System Engineering approach, join me at the upcoming PLM Road Map 2020 and PDT 2020 conference on 17-18-19 November. As you can see from the agenda, a lot of attention to the Digital Twin and Model-Based approaches.

Three digital half-days with hopefully a lot to learn and stay with our feet on the ground.  In particular, I am looking forward to Marc Halpern’s keynote speech: Digital Thread: Be Careful What you Wish For, It Just Might Come True

Conclusion

It has been very noisy on the internet related to product features and technologies, probably due to COVIC-19 and therefore disrupted interactions between all of us – vendors, implementers and companies trying to adjust their future. The Digital Twin concept is an excellent framing for a concept that everyone can relate to. Choose your business case and then look for the best matching twin.