Digital Twin: How It’s Optimizing Manufacturing Operations

Written by: David Immerman

Read Time: 5 min

Manufacturing operations are increasingly complex as the real-time, flawless performance of myriad assets are a necessity and differentiation through digital transformation is becoming a required strategic initiative.

Yet with increasing global competition and disruptive marketplaces there is still internal resistance with the current cross-exchanging of physical and digital information in a manufacturer’s operations between products, processes, and people, within different value chain functions.

Digital twins are ideal to harmonize the siloed discord across manufacturing operations from design, process, up through service, driving significant operational efficiencies. These benefits are being recognized by manufacturers today. Volvo is improving its factory’s flexibility, agility, and quality through a digital thread of the engine quality assurance process. Woodward is lowering manufacturing costs and improving production quality with role-based views of operations. Howden is proving unified data views and instant access of its assets for customers and service networks.


Digital Twin: A Versatile Tool for Manufacturers

A digital twin isn’t limited to a single application nor a single role across manufacturing operations; its value is recognized through contextualized information delivery. This could be work order information to a service technician for maintenance or factory data for an executive to make strategic decisions, among countless other examples.

What contextualized view or ‘lens’ the digital twin application is delivered in depends on the role, use case, and desired business value.

The variety in manufacturing roles and worker tasks is immense; a manager must be aware of the entire factory and production visibility, whereas floor staff will only be concerned with a few specific metrics and performance of machines.

For digital twin value to be recognized the insights need to tie directly to a workflow/ task and accompanying goal:

  • A general manager’s job is to drive overall throughput and production volume, which requires timely insights into the facility’s overall equipment effectiveness, changeover, and downtime.
  • An operator’s role is to maintain asset uptime and consistent performance, monitoring and analyzing metrics including utilization, availability, and quality.
  • Manufacturing executives are tasked with constant monitoring, managing, and optimizing their supply chain via end-to-end visibility, including multiple plants aggregated unit costs (workers, assets, materials), long-term production trends (right first-time production performance, uptime, inventory management), and even better ways of measuring financial metrics (return on assets, asset turnover).

Much of the market strictly associates digital twins with heavy-industrial machines and while there is tremendous usage and value in this application, the concept expands to more complex industrial processes where digital twins of a wide-array of assets are not solely reserved to a machine, a single role, or use case.

Valuable Digital Twin Insights for the C-suite

A broad view for a manufacturing executive is a good way to think of how extensive manufacturing processes and operations are and can be fueled through digital twins. Production environments are extremely intricate as a mix of paper-based and digitized information is constantly flowing from facility-to-facility, workstation-to-workstation, and throughout a product’s lifetime and real-world deployment.

This visibility across many connected assets through a digital twin ‘lens’ at the management level, unlocks an array of positive business outcomes. This starts with increased visibility but extends to predictability into what will happen, and insight into what has happened.

Whether its maintaining uptime to improve customer satisfaction or using performance data to create differentiated products, digital twins can have tremendous and widespread business impact on manufacturing operations.

For an executive, digital twins of these assets and processes generate real-time adjustments to production expectations that can better inform an executive on daily strategic decision-making.

Here are a few examples of insights that could be derived from a digital twin of a fleet of remote assets or products:

  • A service executive preemptively understands a widespread product defect through predictive maintenance and implements service countermeasures.
  • A manufacturing or operations executive analyzes performance metrics, makes modifications to production lines and improves quality of future product iterations.
  • An engineering executive completes the closed feedback-loop and creates better iterations of the product in the future. 

These three different roles common in a manufacturer’s organizational hierarchy and the potentially thousands of workers reporting to them represent the vast magnitude digital twins can have on operations and the value chain underpinning it.

Front-line workers are increasingly empowered through innovative technologies such as augmented reality to interact with digital twins. An HMI inclusive of a digital twin with overlaid contextualized information can drastically improve a technician’s service KPIs or an operator’s assets uptime.

Digital Twins Empower Manufacturing Operations Today

Digitizing asset and process information flow is required in increasingly competitive manufacturing marketplaces. Near-term digital twin value in manufacturing operations begins by compounding in-house technologies, and is further empowered by complementary technologies, including IIoT, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, simulation, and augmented reality, among others.

Starting on a digital transformation journey begins with identifying the greatest business value and pressing needs for the organization, then selecting the digital transformation strategic partner with a shared vision and fitting solution. In the industrial world, digital twins will continue to be the most promising value proposition and a key stakeholder consideration for revolutionizing manufacturing operations.

cta digital twin

Tags: Augmented Reality CAD Industrial Internet of Things Industrial Equipment Digital Twin

About the Author

David Immerman

David Immerman is as a Consulting Analyst for the TMT Consulting team based in Boston, MA. Prior to S&P Market Intelligence, David ran competitive intelligence for a supply chain risk management software startup and provided thought leadership and market research for an industrial software provider. Previously, David was an industry analyst in 451 Research’s Internet of Things channel primarily covering the smart transportation and automotive technology markets.