Building’s digital twins have applications in many sectors: real estate, heritage, construction … But it is probably in the industry that this digital transformation has the greatest impact and shows the best return on investment. In this article, we will assess some challenges facing these digital tools in today’s industry, and then discuss some use cases of digital twins in the industrial sector. Get your ebook on digital twins in the industry.

Why is there a digital transition in the industry?

The digital transition is at work throughout the whole society and is obviously transmitted to all professional sectors. But the industry has its own stakes and specific evolutions which require an evolution of methods and tools:
  • The generalization of personalized/bespoke products leads to rethink the standardized industrial approach;
  • Technological innovation brings new tools, sensors, connected objects;
  • Accelerating product life cycles requires flexibility in production and new agility;
  • Some multi-site industries need to share best practices between sites, but the lack of collaborative tools dedicated to industrial uses makes this process painful, and/or very expensive, especially for multinational actors.
In this context, the construction of new industrial premises is also subject to usual constraints: the differences between the plan and the as-built result, as well as the changes that will occur between the installation phase and the actual use of the premises, not to mention the continuous improvement of processes that brings a continuous change in the environment.
For all those reasons, many manufacturers are looking for efficient and mature solutions to address these different topics. We believe that the implementation of a digital twin of industrial buildings is a good starting point in the digital transition of the industry, all the more as it supports various applications, hence generating significant economies of scope. In reality, it is likely that each service of a given industry can find, from the digital twin, a use case that matches its own stakes! Here are some examples of concrete applications based on the digital twin.

Use case #1: planning an assembly line

Planning a plant’s assembly line requires to adapt the lines to meet the production needs expressed each month by management. This is a central role in optimizing production costs, as it reduces the need for working capital by minimizing inventory.

However, most of the time, this person has few tools to answer this issue: the documentation is only rarely updated, and can be difficult to access if it is spread over several sites. Attempts to simulate the impact or even the feasibility of a redevelopment can therefore be short-lived or, worse, give results that are inconsistent with the reality of the field. And finally, the best practices, which probably will have been implemented on some sites, are probably not shared beyond this site.

The digital twin provides a powerful solution to these various problems:

  • By allowing the production planner to remotely visualize the layout of each plant under his responsibility, and to take all the required measurements with centimetric precision, the digital twin ensures the feasibility of each redevelopment project.
  • Good practices implemented on a site can easily be shared visually on all sites equipped in a similar way.
  • The 3D digital support makes it easy to make as many layout simulations as you need.
  • As a bonus, remote access helps to reduce employee travel costs and reduce the company’s carbon footprint.

Use case #2: facility operation and maintenance

The management of operation and maintenance within a plant can be greatly facilitated by the use of a digital twin, especially when external teams are responsible for all or part of this maintenance (facility management). The problems commonly encountered range from the documentation of interventions, sometimes sparse, not collaborative and in any case poorly located in the factory, to the simple difficulty of finding easily where the faulty machine is, especially when the provider in charge of the maintenance does not have a good knowledge of the places. Often, you end in the situation of having to rely on the memory and good practices of a few employees on the site. With a digital twin, we can geo-locate the interventions that have been carried out at the scale of each machine, for example by attaching a file of interventions; it is even possible, thanks to a mobile version of the digital twin, to be located in the factory via a real indoor GPS that allows teams to save time on moving inside the plant, or even anticipate them. Finally, this facilitates reporting and makes projections on average operating times of equipment.

Use case #3: issuing a call for tender

Companies bidding for tenders for the deployment, installation or operation of industrial premises often enter an iterative, long and uncertain process; indeed, the documentation of the factory can be limited to a few plans, not always up to date. This makes the commitment of providers risky. On the other hand, if the company provides all its bidders with access to the digital twin, this limits errors and delays, and ensures the feasibility of installation projects. In addition, it also saves time for the bidder because it simply replaces the descriptive part of the specifications (consisting of photos, 2D plans and written descriptions) with a common access to a digital twin.

Use case #4: virtual training

Often, the integration of new employees within the plant is long and inefficient: it is done day by day, sometimes without a comprehensive plan. In addition, some places have complex access, for reasons of security or limitations due to operational constraints (nuclear sites, clean rooms, …) In these conditions, early training of employees to the general organization and operation of the site is a guarantee of successful integration and faster operational performance. Training times are shortened, trainers’ time is better used where their added value is greatest, and employees are better trained, in a more fun and enjoyable way, while strengthening their sense of belonging to the site.

Use case #5: safety and compliance management

Over time, regulatory or legal constraints increase and require plant operators to maintain a constant follow-up and update. But production requirements leave few time left to operating teams, so sometimes the checks are incomplete. Or, when they are carried out exhaustively, they can then prove to be expensive (either in internal working time, or in external service delivery). This often leads to a lack of anticipation, with strategies more corrective than preventive, as well as insufficiently effective training and inspections. By enabling all stakeholders to collaborate online, the digital twin of the plant allows for better risk assessment and assurance of facility compliance; it can also allow to gather the feedbacks of the best experts of the company, even if they are located remotely.

Use case #6: workflow monitoring and production simulation

So far, we have mainly evoked the geometric and geo-location aspects of the digital twin. However, it is also possible to integrate functional aspects into the digital twin, to follow some production data in real time and/or to model the operation and the main production-related metrics. To do this, the integration of data streams from sensors located on the machines makes it possible to directly and visually monitor the production.
The benefits that can be derived from this type of use are extremely significant:
  • Real-time tracking helps to quickly identify production gaps versus forecasts;
  • It also helps identify operational problems early, reducing time to repair;
  • If necessary, simulations can also be performed to evaluate the feasibility or impacts of certain production scenarios.

Download our more detailed presentation of digital twin industry use cases!

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