Is 2021 the year when digital twinning comes to the fore?

Posted by katy on
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The Covid-19 pandemic is making everyone look at the world a little differently. Individuals and businesses alike are reassessing what they do and how they do it, finding new solutions to problems that they hadn’t even considered a year ago and taking a lot less for granted. However, the pandemic isn’t just changing the ‘now’, it’s also changing the future, as we realise there are silver linings to be taken from the adaptations forced upon us in 2020 and the innovations it has led us to rapidly create and introduce.

Digital twinning has been a buzzword in industry for some time, but many experts are predicting 2021 will be the year when it finally comes to the fore.

Digital twinning is the mapping of a physical asset to a digital platform. Digital representations of physical tools, machines and products have seldom been more important, with lockdowns limiting opportunities for people to travel, work with others or manage remote assets. The world we find ourselves in now is perfect for digital twinning, bringing together different types of tech to raise understanding, of, and increase remote interactions with, products, services and assets such as digital communication cells. The latter, though not strictly digital twinning, connects people virtually and facilitates the management of complex operational processes.   

From product design to construction, to managing assets and infrastructure, digital twinning allows things to be created virtually before they are brought physically into the world. That means the big picture can be seen much earlier, reducing costs, risks and oversights. It’s also changing the life cycles of products and the skills required of staff, many of whom are now working from home.

In supply chain logistics, there’s an increasing demand for model assimilation and many believe digital twins are the future of operations management. Why? Imagine a future with intelligent digital systems that can visualise the whole end to process in absolute real time – with all of its inputs and the ability to anticipate any potential errors or breakdowns within the chain. Instantly, without any physical inputs, positive adjustments could be made to all the processes. 

Using cutting edge machine learning and data science, every possible scenario can be rehearsed and intelligently replayed using simulations, before the digital twin selects the optimal decision and then injects this into the operation all within the blink of an eye and without any physical contact.

A report published by Global Markets Insights in September 2020 indicated that the digital twinning market exceeded USD 4 billion in 2019 but was estimated to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 30% between 2020 and 2026. Driving the market growth predictions was the advent of advanced technologies such as VR, AR, AI, machine language, deep learning and blockchain.

As more organisations switch-on to the possibilities afforded by digital twins, decision-making in the workplace will become more data driven and this will be reflected in the design of new products, services and business models. Not only does digital twinning provide scope for the life cycle of a product to become more efficient, but it can reduce costs and waste too. Designers can save precious resources by vigorously testing virtual prototypes instead of real ones.

It may sound like the domain of big business but the possibilities opened up by digital twinning are for everyone. That’s largely because the technologies on which it is built are advancing at speed, making it easier and cheaper to collect operational data.  

The Covid-19 pandemic left some organisations susceptible to fluctuations in productivity levels and orders. Digital twinning can use technology to model ‘shock’ events so companies can adapt to unforeseen circumstances. Increased knowledge from captured data and analytics can feed detection, prevention and prediction, meaning digital twinning helps equip organisations to deal with the unforeseen more insightfully – operating in parallel to real-world events and situations. Demystifying digital twinning is a big step on the journey towards becoming mainstream. The machines aren’t taking over. Instead, a host of technologies are being integrated into one package, to improve outcomes for your business at every level.

Data collected by digital twins are predicting breakages before they happen and reporting them to operators to save money and time during production. Before the fault occurs, businesses can order parts and source components, reducing the risk of downtime caused by broken machinery.

It’s seeing into the future so you’re better prepared for what’s to come.

How Unipart Logistics is supporting the NHS with state-of-the-art scanning technology

Unipart has an extensive range of digital capabilities that span data science, IoT and sensors, picking solutions, robotic process automation, 3D scanning and printing and augmented and virtual reality technology groups. We have developed a range of products to drive efficiencies, including Unipart’s bespoke Warehouse Management System and advanced forecasting and visibility solutions.

Using 3D modelling tools, including augmented, mixed and virtual reality applications, Unipart can create digital twins of sites and physical assets in the virtual world.

Digital twinning improves supply chain resilience by identifying and eradicating bottlenecks, optimising operational layouts, and fine-tuning resource planning. It is useful for making safety improvements on site and planning fast, reliable and cost-effective delivery routes. Unipart has invested in state-of-the-art scanning equipment and 3D modelling tools to develop digital twins of our warehouses right across the UK.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, digital twins helped Unipart manage spikes in demand for the core NHS Supply Chain network, as well as complete the build of a new distribution centre at Suffolk Park in Bury St Edmunds.

You can read more about this here.

MetLase is another area within Unipart that is using technology to compare physical realities back to virtual prototypes.  In 2015, Unipart and Rolls-Royce launched a collaborative venture – drawing on the know-how of both partners in the automotive and aerospace sectors. MetLase applies patented techniques, honed in the aerospace industry, to a vast range of problems across all manufacturing sectors, and all parts of the value chain, with speed, precision and ingenuity.

MetLase’s emphasis on digital technologies means all design begins at a computer and their approach means they do not just make things to precise specifications, according to the solution the customer presents to solve their own problem. Instead, MetLase engineers talk to customers in-depth about their problems and come up with ideas and solutions using a range of tools and technologies including 3D CAD, VR / Immersive, IoT and programmed dashboards. This means products and solutions can be virtually designed and validated – speeding up processes and reducing the need for prototypes.

Consider a production line where a 90-minute quality check would result in many fuel systems being scrapped. Now imagine one with a four second quality check. That’s an example of the transformation that MetLase delivered for a major fuel system manufacturer.

The customer currently uses the New Generation Fuel System blow-moulding process to produce plastic fuel systems. Due to the complicated nature of this process, machines are required to run 24/7 as a high level of heat is needed before production can start. As with all manufacturing processes, parts are inspected regularly to ensure they adhere to stringent quality standards. With around 49 points of data to inspect, this process can take around 40-90 minutes. To complicate this further, a number of components are enclosed within the tank. If the production line stops due to a fault, a substantial amount of scrap can occur. 

By using a range of different technologies found in multiple sectors, MetLase engineers offered a solution for the customer’s unique problem. Digital technology was applied to solve the manual inspection process, turning this into a digital solution that automates the inspection, providing an immediate assessment of the fuel tanks. The result, a digital gauge which has over 50 different sensors, inspecting the fuel system instantly and reducing the inspection time from up to 90 minutes to just  four seconds. 

MetLase engineers developed this technology (which includes ‘plug and play’) to integrate into the digital gauge fixturing system – something that could not be done with existing technologies. MetLase’s innovation produced a digital inspection solution that was able to compare the  physical tank back to the virtually designed one – allowing greater monitoring of manufacturing processes. This Intuitive and effective solution enabled the customer to collect and harvest data and do more with it – reducing the timeframe of inspections from hours to seconds and spotting trends that informed and led the manufacturing process before wasteful scrap was produced. 

If you would like to learn more about ways to develop and future-proof your supply chain, read more of Unipart’s Supply Chain Insights.