How Digital Twins Could help the Planet

Manufacturing most anything is an incredibly complex process. When you’re talking naval or even just container ships, it’s a whole other scale of complexity. How about massive buildings? Complex wiring, mechanical systems. These are highly complex systems. Then of course, there’s the Internet-of-Things (IoT) and Industrial-Internet-of-Things (IIoT). And spacecraft.

So what is a digital twin? It is the digital representation of a physical asset. Such as a ship, which is where digital twin technology is seeing significant adoption. Ships have become incredibly complex over the years, from naval vessels to cargo vessels. Automation in ships is only increasing as crews are expensive to house, feed, train and certify. Ships crews have fallen between 20% to 50% in both military and commercial vessels over the past couple of decades and this is an ongoing trend. With a digital twin, the whole ship can be brought together, including the manufacturing process and supply chains, creating a virtual shipyard if you will. Not just the ship itself.

Now imagine this for a manufacturing plant for cars like Tesla or Hyundai, or even Fab’s, the name given to computer chip manufacturing plants. Fabs are incredibly expensive to build, so are battery plants and automotive plants. All of these too, are heavy energy users. And as manufacturing demand increases along with environmental regulations and the drive to more sustainable manufacturing processes, well, you get the picture. It gets complicated.

Digital Twin tools can also be used, along with what is known as Digital Thread, the process analysis of designing the production/manufacturing flow to also look at product lifecycles, supply chain and asset management and even through to corporate culture.

Other advantages of a Digital Twin can mean breaking through silos within organisations, improving the flow of data and information. Information can be re-used, especially when good Knowledge Management systems are in place. All of this means less lost information, access to better insights to make informed decisions as needed and reducing the costs of re-inventing the wheel every time.

For real-world manufacturing of physical products, a digital replica of the manufacturing floor and all its equipment and processes can be created. This way, with a virtual representation of the manufacturing system, engineers and product designers can be more deeply engaged and test ideas and innovations without any impact to the actual manufacturing process. This means less material and product wastage, faster time to market and process improvements on the manufacturing floor, along with making better decisions around which machines to purchase and implement.

The Digital Twin concept results in faster, leaner, more profitable manufacturing. Which means less energy and material waste. Technologies designed to be tested for cleaner or greener manufacturing can also be tested and validated prior to implementation.

All of this is another aspect of Industry 4.0 and benefits the planet as it grows in use because it reduces material and chemical waste, delivers better, lasting products to customers and reduces net pollution. The manufacturer is motivated by increased profitability and faster time to market and the consumer gets a greener product and there are less toxic emissions and industrial waste put into the atmosphere. For now, most Digital Twin technologies are in the shipbuilding sector but are moving into aerospace and more complex products.

Within a few years, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality tools could play an even bigger role. Imagine walking through an entire ship or manufacturing facility, moving things around and seeing how it affects entire complex systems, without ever building anything in the real world. This could save billions in machining and physical building. All of which means using less resources and optimizing before production even begins!

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