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FEATURE IIOT & SMART MANUFACTURING


There is still a lot of confusion around the topic of ‘digital twins’, although it has become clear that they can


offer many benefits for equipment users and manufacturers alike. Ken Christie, UK director at CAE


solutions provider, EPLAN, explains why it is a trend worth adopting


Smart factories and the Internet of Things have laid the foundation for a strong and complex knowledge base that is constantly evolving


I


ntroduced at the Hannover Fair in 2015, the ‘digital twin’ has since


been named one of Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends. But what is a digital twin? A digital twin is an accurate virtual


“With the aid of digital twins, engineers can explore the impact of design


alternatives without purchasing the components and spending the time necessary to try out multiple versions of a project in the real world”


model of a process, product or service – the behaviour of this model can almost always be analysed more easily and at lower cost than the behaviour of its real-world analogue. It is also possible to try out new ideas quickly and easily on the digital twin without the risks associated with experimentation in the real world. Smart components that use sensors to gather data about real-time status, working condition or position, are integrated within a physical item or machine


component. The components are


connected to a cloud-based system that receives and processes all the


data the sensors monitor. This input is then analysed against business and other contextual data.


Digital twins can be generated cost effectively by using a computer aided engineering (CAE) software platform


WHAT ARE DIGITAL TWINS USED FOR? Companies use digital twins in different ways, depending on their industry sector. Sometimes they are used in the early design stages to investigate how a component or device will perform; other times they are used to simulate the


Digital twins: the reality


operation of a new machine or device before it is used in a live manufacturing environment. In this way, companies can greatly reduce the costs – and the risk of errors – associated with product development. With the aid of digital twins, engineers


can explore the impact of design alternatives without purchasing the components and spending the time necessary to try out multiple versions of a project in the real world. The simulations made possible by the technology allow designers to find out early in the design process whether the project will meet customer requirements or whether modifications will be needed.


GENERATION Digital twins can be generated cost effectively by using a computer aided engineering (CAE) software platform. Take, for example, a 3D model of a control cabinet. The model is built up and validated according to the real product; this is then the central digital instance for all further processes along the lifecycle of the product. Production, test, commissioning, operation, conversion – they can all be improved and streamlined this way. Some of these platforms also provide


access to a data portal including comprehensive information about components from a huge range of manufacturers. With this combination of powerful design tools and accurate component data, engineers have everything they need to start generating a digital twin easily and quickly. In addition to being used in the early


stages of design, digital twins can also be employed once the machine is built and working. In this situation the digital twin can be used for training staff, and also to analyse the behaviour of a machine or system – as an aid to fault- finding, for example, or to examine how it would cope with product changes. More often than not, digital twins are


18 JULY/AUGUST 2019 | DESIGN SOLUTIONS


visualised via 3D CAD solutions. These technologies create a digital product description where the user feels like they are inside the experience rather than watching it on a screen in front of them.


THE BENEFITS Digital twins and VR are valuable resources. In addition to making fault- finding faster, they allow technicians to inspect malfunctioning equipment in a completely safe way, by working on the digital twin rather than the real thing. Another benefit this technology is


enabling is that the PDM/PLM system can provide a complete view of the product or machine lifecycle. Thanks to a capability called digital thread, multiple viewers from different departments can look at the same interface of a digital twin by using the same underlying data streams. The beauty of the set-up is that each individual viewer will gain access to their own visualisations as well as supplemental data sources that they are interested in, based on their job role. Digital twins rely on robust data and


analytics, collected at every stage of the product lifecycle. This information allows the designers and users of equipment to make modifications and improvements at each stage. And, thanks to the decentralised and free flow of data, all interested parties can add their know-how and expertise to the project and see it evolve. The future direction of digital twins


and virtual reality is still unscripted for the manufacturing sector. Smart factories and the Internet of Things have laid the foundation for a strong and complex knowledge base that is constantly evolving. Perhaps, as a result of this, the applications of digital technology will, in the not so distant future, stretch far beyond human imagination and physical capabilities.


EPLAN www.eplan.co.uk


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