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Digital twins provide insights for system integrators

April 15, 2024
A Control Intelligence podcast with editor-in-chief Mike Bacidore, written by managing editor Anna Townshend

In this episode of Control Intelligence, written by managing editor Anna Townshend, editor-in-chief Mike Bacidore recaps the answers to a Control Design reader question about digital twin technology.


A Control Design readers 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?

Dale Tutt, vice president of industry strategy at Siemens Digital Industries Software, our first respondent, writes:

System integrators can gain numerous benefits from using a digital twin during the design process or during commissioning to validate designs and tweak layouts. A comprehensive digital twin, backed by a robust product lifecycle management system, allows a design team to manage the configuration and ensure that design, verification and manufacturing solutions are in sync. That is because a comprehensive digital twin is the single source of truth that optimizes and validates a design through virtual testing of the product before physically building it. A digital twin offers the ability to identify and address changes earlier in the design process and modify the design during virtual validation. Any changes identified during virtual validation can be made in a cost-effective manner during this stage. It is critical to validate the performance of the production process before building any hardware or investing in facilities, tooling and machines.

Can or should one digital twin follow the lifecycle of the product from designer to end user, or do you need separate ones for design and operations? It is essential to have a single comprehensive digital twin that matures through the lifecycle of the product as the production process is inherently linked to the design of the product. A single digital twin allows designers to improve decision-making early in the design process. As the design matures, the digital twin is maturing and enables designers to optimize the design of the products or production processes. Once the physical product is built, it is easier to understand its operation using the digital twin that has matured during the design cycle.

As far as the different formats for digital twins and how to decide between a fully visualized platform or something simpler, it is important to consider your business objective and what you are trying to achieve. If you are working greenfield, it is a different answer than working brownfield. No matter what is being designed, the digital twin consists of CAD geometry analysis, simulation models, bill of materials, requirements and all of the information that is required to define the product and the operation, characteristics and behavior of the product. You will need to be able to bring all of the data together and visualize and work with it in a way that is meaningful, and you can only do this with an open PLM solution. An open system allows you to bring in data from any CAD system and bring it together smoothly and easily in a single digital mockup.

Perry Hudson, market manager of packaging at Pepperl+Fuchs, our second respondent, writes:

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.

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