Decoding the opportunities that digital twins create

Boeing has seen incredible results and it seems as though the technology is going to transform the world of manufacturing
25 October 2018

Digital twins are helping aircraft manufacturers with predictive maintenance. Source: Shutterstock

There’s a certain kind of magic that happens when technology augments conventional processes and breathes new life into them — and that’s exactly the kind of magic we see with digital twins.

Manufacturers and engineers have created 3D drawings of their systems and products by hand, then moved on to modeling those on the computer via CAD/CAM software, and now, with the help of cameras, sensors, and omnipresent internet connections, these visualizations are brought to life in the form of digital twins.

Essentially, a digital twin is a representation of a real-world entity or system in the virtual world. It’s that simple.

According to Gartner, half of the world’s largest industrial companies will use digital twins by 2021, resulting in those organizations gaining a 10 percent improvement in effectiveness.

Digital twins drive the business impact of the Internet of Things (IoT) by offering a powerful way to monitor and control assets and processes.

Obviously, not all digital twins are equal. Depending on the use case, manufacturers and engineers need to decide the complexity of the digital twin that needs to be developed.

In some cases, a simple model based on clearly defined functional or technical parameters will suffice. In other cases, physics-based, high-fidelity digital twins might be needed. Some might even demand the use of compound systems composed of other digital twins to provide the best results.

Developing digital twins, therefore, might not be affordable for everyone at this stage — but for those who have the resources, it’s a pretty novel innovation.

How’s Boeing using digital twins?

Boeing is an innovative company that promises customers bleeding-edge technology. Hence, their first-movers advantage in the realm of digital twins is understandable.

The company started out experimenting with the technology a couple of years ago and now, has measurable success to showcase to industry peers and colleagues.

“Boeing has been able to achieve up to a 40 percent improvement in first-time quality of the parts and systems it uses to manufacture commercial and military airplanes by using the digital twin asset development model,” claimed Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg recently.

“This model is going to be the biggest driver of production efficiency improvements for the world’s largest airplane maker over the next decade,” added Muilenburg.

It seems as though the use of the digital twin is changing how Boeing designs its airplanes — and if things go as planned — the technology might change the way Boeing does business altogether.

Why it’s smart to embrace digital twins

To many companies, creating a digital twin might seem like a big investment of resources, and it definitely is.

However, there are hidden benefits to making the leap, especially for manufacturers looking to ride the next digital wave in manufacturing, comprising of the internet of things (IoT) and industry 4.0.

For starters, digital twins enable predictive maintenance and help manufacturers ensure 100 percent up time.

Next, it enables the shift to a (part) revenue-based business model where customers can buy a complex, mission-critical engineering component from a company (say, an aircraft engine) and trust the same company to provide advice about optimizing its use and making sure it is always running as required.

Finally, it makes the shift to an IoT-driven industry 4.0 model much smoother as digital twins form the foundation of the factory of the future — allowing businesses to make sure that they’re prepared ahead of time to take their operations digital.