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Unlocking the power of digital twins: a guide for system integrators

April 15, 2024
From design validation to predictive maintenance, digital twins maximize efficiency and performance across the project lifecycle

A Control Design reader asks: We recently helped a manufacturer set up a digital twin after the commissioning process on a new line in order for them to continually improve production. I clearly see the value of digital twin’s use of real-time data for our end users to improve operations. But what could be gained from the use of digital twins for system integrators during the design process or during commissioning to validate our designs and tweak layouts? Can digital twins be used to validate machine code or tune control parameters ahead of commissioning? Can or should one digital twin follow the lifecycle of the project from us to end user? Or do we need one digital twin for planning and design and a separate one for operations? We also became overwhelmed by the different formats for digital twins. How do we decide if we need a fully visualized platform or something simpler?

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Analysis, testing and optimization

It is true that digital twins are a powerful proposition for system integrators that offer benefits throughout an entire project lifecycle. Let’s review how they can be implemented to assist in different project phases.

They are a virtual example of a proposed system. This can help stimulate design ideas and validate strengths and weaknesses. With a digital twin, you can analyze for system output performance. They allow you to search for system bottlenecks and optimize the layout based on the customer’s facility.

Digital twins give you the ability to test and fine-tune control algorithms before investing in the actual system. This helps to ensure the best performance and avoid costly adjustments to the control system during machine commissioning.

I think one of the great strengths of this phase is the ability to simulate how your system will react with other systems or subcomponents. Just think of the time this can save you during commissioning.

We have already covered some of these points, but digital twins help prepare for the commissioning process and factory acceptance tests (FATs). You can validate how machines are working and test the expected performance. This can identify deviations from customer expectations or identify issues early on to facilitate discussions.

Digital twins are already being used as training tools for customers. This is a proven aspect that is very powerful.

The digital twin doesn’t stop being of use once the system has been designed. It can remain in operation to monitor performance of the machine design. This can reveal inefficiencies in the machine or identify opportunities for design advancements. These examples can lead to future opportunities.

Digital twins have already proven themselves powerful in the development of predictive maintenance algorithms that can be used to anticipate equipment failures and proactively schedule maintenance. This can lead to an entire new income stream for the system integrator offering services to minimize downtime and maximize customer productivity.

When it comes to project lifecycles, you can see that it is possible to have a single digital twin evolve from design phase through to operation. This integrated approach ensures consistency and allows you to transition seamlessly between project phases. Of course, if you only have one, you need to consider the specific requirements and preferences of both you and your customer when designing the platform.

When it comes to the digital-twin platform, you can avoid a pitfall by reviewing your goal. Do you need a fully visualized platform or can a simpler concept work? This depends on the complexity of the system, the desired level of detail and, of course, the technical capabilities of the users. I would make these decisions dependent on your needs, the system integrator. They should be the deciding factor in choosing the appropriate solution. In some cases, a simpler representation may meet your basic validation and monitoring requirements.

Ultimately, you should choose the digital twin approach that aligns with the goals of the project, but also enhances your long-term collaboration goals. A good question to ask yourself is: Are you improving system performance for your company and that of your stakeholders?

Perry Hudson, market manager of packaging / Pepperl+Fuchs

About the Author

Anna Townshend | Managing Editor

Anna Townshend has been a writer and journalist for 20 years. Previously, she was the editor of Marina Dock Age and International Dredging Review, until she joined Endeavor Business Media in June 2020. She is the managing editor of Control Design and Plant Services.

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