When a new smartphone release is announced, people are quick to upgrade for fear of their technology becoming outdated. The need for the latest technology is also visible in the manufacturing sector, as those working within it look to improve efficiency through Industry 4.0.
Experts predicted Industry 4.0 would connect the physical world to the digital. To bring these two together, manufacturers developed smarter, better connected machines that use big data, machine-to-machine communication and machine learning to optimize productivity.
In recent years, Industry 4.0 has increased in popularity as new technologies become cheaper and more accessible. This has enabled smaller manufacturers to follow in the footsteps of larger firms. One innovation to come out of Industry 4.0 is digital twinning.
Digital twinning is the mapping of a physical asset to a digital platform where it can be used for various purposes. The digital twin uses data from sensors located on the physical asset to analyze its efficiency, working condition and real-time status.
Manufacturers program the models with decentralized decision-making that learns from data to provide suggestions and make decisions with the aim of streamlining production. Machines can collect information throughout their lifetime to simulate processes for future advancements, resolving reductions in productivity and precision.
Plant managers can analyze data collected by digital twining to predict breakdowns before they happen and report them to operators to save money and time during production. Before the faults occur, businesses can order parts from companies that source automation components, reducing the risk of downtime caused by broken machinery.
Historically, designers had little opportunity to test and amend their prototypes. However, digital twinning lets manufacturers edit a virtual prototype throughout the production process. After analyzing simulations, the final construction is more efficient, which reduces development time and costs.
General Electric (GE) relies on digital twinning to build and maintain its wind farms. Virtual models enable engineers to monitor and control turbines, identifying problems before they occur. GE's virtual plant contains an energy-forecasting application that integrates with the twins and predicts power output. The digital turbines control their physical twins, allowing them to adapt to environmental conditions. This reduces forecast-to-actual deviation penalties and increases annual power generation.
The benefits of digital twinning continue to be reaped across sectors such as pharmaceuticals and oil and gas. According to a report released by Orbis Research, this trend is only expected to increase. The report suggests that up to 85 percent of all Internet of Things (IoT) platforms will contain some form of digital twinning by 2022.
By providing real-time production data, digital twinning can help boost productivity in manufacturing, allowing businesses to remain competitive and meet customer demand. This means companies won't have to worry about their technology becoming outdated.
Jonathan Wilkins is the marketing director at EU Automation, an industrial automation equipment supplier.