Since 2018 that the consulting firm Gartner predicted that in 2021 the Digital Twins would be one of the concepts with more potential in the Industry, increasing all kinds of efficiencies, we have a “boom” in terms of the interest that this word has awakened.
But this term, typical of Industry 4.0, as in many cases, is nothing new in terms of its fundamentals.
NASA was who since the 60’s developed physical replicas of their spacecraft, given the need to have automatic systems and equipment that had to be manipulated and operated in a distant and hostile scenario (space). Thus, they devised the development of replicas in which they could perform simulations that would not compromise human lives or involve extraordinary costs.
And thanks to this, the Apollo XIII space mission (the program’s seventh manned mission) did not end in tragedy. The exact replica of its descent module in the Houston laboratories was able to design and validate all kinds of ingenious solutions to the multiple failures that befell the three astronauts on their return to Earth.
Y gracias a ello, la misión espacial del Apolo XIII (la séptima misión tripulada del programa) no acabó en tragedia. La réplica exacta de su módulo de descenso en los laboratorios de Houston se pudo diseñar y validar todo tipo de ingeniosas soluciones ante los múltiples fallos que iban sucediendo a los 3 astronautas en su retorno a la Tierra.
Today, in the midst of the Digital Transformation not only of the industry but of the whole society, the replicas are digital.
In production environments, 3 types of digital twins are cataloged:
- DIGITAL PRODUCT TWIN
They will allow us to simulate and verify products digitally. For example, from the purely mechanical part to the electronics. Their performance under certain conditions and thus make adjustments in the virtual world to ensure that the next physical product performs exactly as planned.
- DIGITAL TWIN OF THE OPERATION
It allows to analyze and act thanks to the capture and exploitation of data generated in the production operation, for example. The integration with other systems and data sources of different origins is very important for this type of twin.
- VIRTUAL COMMISSIONING
It consists of working in parallel from the first phases of engineering such as mechanical, electrical and automation design, being able to optimize the machine or installation, and test the PLC code based on this virtual model.
Being able to interact with the Digital Twin, with its own physical devices, sending signals from the real world to the virtual world, for example.
However, I believe that other types of Digital Twins will be developed, as many as the engineering imagination and the management will take advantage of. As many types of Digital Twins as different applications are required.
Hence, the potential of the DIGITAL TWIN worldwide is enormous. By 2030, the world will be highly digitized, full of all kinds of Digital Twins in the vast majority of manufacturing industries.
Moreover, from the main stages of transformation through which a factory must evolve, we cannot conceive of reaching the final state of autonomy (Smart Factory), if the factory does not have Digital Twins in its full deployment.
In short, without Digital Twins there will be no Smart Factories….
Regarding what Digital Twins are intended to achieve, it obviously depends on the type and industrial application.
For example, if we refer to Twins for Operational and in industrial maintenance environments, the most common objectives are:
- Increased efficiency
- Increased safety
- Reduction or elimination of unscheduled downtime
- Retention of knowledge in a digital enterprise environment
- Standardization and improvement of practices
- Collaborative problem solving (Simultaneous Solving Problems)
However, given the basic concepts of what a Digital Twin is and is not, it is true that one of the main technologies inherent in the replicas is Computer Simulation. A technology for predicting futures, evaluating the “What if” in a controlled digital environment, etc.
This approach already provides us with a series of very interesting reflections to share with the reader. The most relevant is that Digital Twins make sense in highly changing environments due to internal and external factors, because if we are in a deterministic system where we can know any future state, it is very difficult to devise utilities to a Digital Twin.
Another reflection for example is that when we talk about Operation Digital Twins, logistics activity, distribution and transportation networks, and Supply Chains are very powerful “candidate” environments to design and implement Digital Twins, given the stochastic nature of this activity in a world as global as ours.
Or high-performance industrial equipment with high availability requirements, therefore critical, that due to internal factors of the machine itself or external factors (materials to be processed, etc.), may experience interruptions (micro stoppages that lower its performance) or even “uncontrolled and unpredictable” failure.
Another relevant analysis that I want to share in this article is the confusion that when we talk about Digital Twins we usually refer to a specific technology. And this is a mistake because Digital Twins are integrations of different 4.0 technologies, but also with other factory solutions such as ERP, MES, WMS, etc. And it is depending on the type of Digital Twin, one or other enabling technologies are required.
For example, when we refer to Digital Twins of industrial equipment, Augmented Reality and Smart Glasses technologies are fundamental, implementing remote maintenance or tele-maintenance modes. However, in product Digital Twins it is usually Immersive Reality that offers relevant functionalities for these types of twins.