Digital Twins & IoT Are the Real Enablers of Smart Products & Smart Services

Written on
Oct 17, 2017 
Christina Patsioura  |

A Digital Twin stands for a virtual copy of a physical asset, a digital copy of either a product or a machine. They are deployed in order to configure digitally the asset’s qualities. For a product, this might include properties such as shape, colour, design and other physical attributes; for a manufacturing machine it might include its virtual representation along with the configuration properties, such as rotation speed, tension load levels and others.

So far nothing new here, nothing very sophisticated and complicated compared to what the industry has been using so far.

So, what’s the big deal with Digital Twins? And why do they keep popping up alongside fancy terms such as the Internet of Things, smart manufacturing, augmented and virtual reality, etc.?

* The Future: Digital Twins with the use of IoT technologies are making the concepts of smart products and smart services a reality.

* The Background: A Digital Twin, as a digital deployment, simulates virtually an asset’s physical behaviour. Digital Twins are used extensively in the industrial design world as a way of optimally adjusting the qualities of a product before it is manufactured. They are also used as a way to adjust and optimise the behaviour of an asset in the field, through simulations that are made with the use of the necessary software tools.

Imagine you wanted to design a car component, but you didn’t know how well it will perform in real life situations like, for example, extreme weather conditions. In that case, you – or the industrial designer – can design the car component with the use of special 3D design software. This software allows you to create a digital drawing of the component you want to manufacture and simulate real life situations, like extreme weather conditions, on to it. By applying some tension load on to your digital component design, or digital twin, in specific directions allows you to mimic real world stresses on the product, like the force of the wind, in order to test its attributes such as reaction, resistance, failure thresholds and so on. After testing, you could go back to your digital drawing, the Digital Twin, and readjust its shape and qualities where needed, before committing to manufacturing it.

Using this process gives you the ability to mitigate the chances of product failures before going into production.

So far function of Digital Twins was primarily focused in the following areas:

• Tightening the loop between design and finished goods, BOM (Bill of Materials) and BOP (Bill of Processes) that describe the raw material and the processes to manufacture the good,

• Enhancing the R&D/design/manufacturing processes.

Their enabling technologies are the various Computer Aided Design, Engineering and Manufacturing packages (CAD/CAE/CAM), along with their connection with the manufacturing equipment, machines and devices in the filed, and the necessary dashboards and control panels.
Until today, the concept of the Digital Twin did not enable the tracking of location of the asset throughout its entire lifecycle, as there was limited relation of the production planning, the warehouse management and the shipping processes of the products. Furthermore, the visibility of the top-level operations within the manufacturing premises was limited as well. In general, the concept of the Digital Twin was based upon static product information with little capabilities of continuous updates and development.

Digital Twins are getting a hype – what is the role of IoT

Digital Twins are gaining traction and interest today because various new tech developments can now really push the benefits of implementing Digital Twins in adjacent fields beyond traditional manufacturing and product management. Starting from the areas of Industrial and product design, quality management and product lifecycle management, and extending to the areas of ergonomics, manufacturing and marketing, new tech is enabling totally novel fields and capabilities for Digital Twins, such as the concept of decentralised manufacturing, that of mass-customisation of products and Interactive industrial design.

The Internet of Things, as the enabler of the communication capabilities of the assets/products, can really empower the existing functionality of Digital Twins in a way that:

• Bridges the gap between design and product usage, because the current stage of manufacturing and the processes are captured by sensors that reside in the materials and the machines.

• Real-time reporting on the product is feasible throughout its Lifecycle

The Internet of Things (IoT) augments the manufacturing process with sensors and automated generation of data about operations, performance, and maintenance. A Digital Twin can then incorporate this product data from design to operation and beyond, including maintenance history and also provide insights and services throughout the after-sale stage, when the product will be residing in the hands of customers.

The Benefits

• Increased customisation levels for the manufactured goods, through the participation of consumers or external designers/engineers in the product creation process.

• Increased quality of materials through the better assessment of the materials and their behaviour, as reported by consumers and from the field level.

• Real-time optimised warehouse management and intralogistics processes can be achieved with greater efficiency.

• Continuous visibility after-shipment and after-sale of the product.

• Convergence of the Business Strategy, Marketing Operation and that of Customer Services, through the continuously updated product information with real-time readings.

• Enablement of the “as-a-service” offering for assets and products, since the continuous communication between the manufacturer and its product is feasible thanks to the IoT.

Transferring the physical world to the digital realms

As industrial manufacturers are moving to new business models that help them achieve higher profitability and discover new revenue streams, the concept of the selling “as-a-service” and the “pay-per-use” or “pay-per-outcome” are emerging as the desired.

As important as it is to have an IoT Platforms strategy in place, a Digital Twins strategy for the IoT-enhanced products and services is proving to be equally important. Most importantly, the concept of the Digital Twin is already proving to be increasingly valuable for the product management and is expected to complement – or even replace – the very concept of the product offering itself.

Another reason for the Digital Twin enthusiasm is the underlying notion that the world is being radically digitised in all possible forms. So, Digital Twins, even though they are currently being strictly applied within the boundaries of the industrial manufacturing space, represent, in the best way, the capabilities of transferring the physical world to the digital realms. In reality, the concept of the Digital Twin, as envisaged in the context of the 4th Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0), promises to enable full interaction between consumers and the products that they use, and that of manufacturers with the products they create, and merge these worlds even more.

Christina Patsioura is an IoT Research Analyst at Beecham Research, with a particular focus on the Enterprise Internet of Things, Industrial IoT, Smart Grid, Data Analytics and Machine Learning. She has co-created "IoT Pilot", a web-based IoT Platform selection tool and has co-authored an extensive report on Industrial Data Analytics. Her work in analyzing the IoT market landscape, across all enterprise sectors and verticals, includes consultancy projects with technology suppliers and with financial organisations and private equity firms that are looking to make investments in these areas. Christina holds a MEng in Mechanical/Industrial Engineering and completed a thesis on the topic of Investment Analysis for the Telecommunications sector. Twitter: @christpatsi

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