Leveraging the digital twin to lead change

Guest article Siemens

Companies are facing intense pressures to create truly innovative new products that not only must be smarter, brought to market more quickly and manufactured more efficiently, but also must be more sustainable. Companies who have not embraced the comprehensive digital twin as a core part of their sustainability initiatives will not be able to fully leverage the rich data required to meet today's global challenges.

A digital twin is a virtual model of a physical object – a component, product, machine, process, etc. A truly comprehensive digital twin includes mechanical, electrical and software engineering data. It matures throughout the product lifecycle, to capture, record and leverage data across the entire product and production process and establish a feedback loop to collect data about the product in use. With a comprehensive digital twin, companies can bridge the virtual and physical world to create a continuous loop of optimization, opportunity and sustainable output. The more comprehensive the digital twin the more valuable it is because it enables companies to make decisions in confidence.

The key is to identify practical changes that can make a real and tangible impact in each point of the digital thread.

Tony Hemmelgarn
President and CEO of Siemens Digital Industries Software

It starts with design

An estimated 80 percent of a product’s environmental impact is determined at the concept phase, which requires a fundamental shift in how we approach ideation and design. To be effective, companies need to evaluate the complete environmental impact of a product in addition to its performance, cost and quality. Leveraging advanced engineering solutions, companies can assess this during the formative stages of design and engineering to make informed decisions based on accurate, up-to-date data.

For example, through advanced automation and architecture exploration, automotive customers are able to reduce the amount of cabling in electric vehicle design, reducing the weight, lowering the cost of the battery, and decreasing the vehicles overall carbon footprint once in use

Design to Manufacturing 

The transformation in how we work and think must be carried through to manufacturing and production to address all the variables that contribute to a product’s environmental impact. Tools like topology optimization, generative engineering and additive manufacturing can be applied to the digital twin of tooling to reduce material waste and improve energy consumption during manufacturing. Additionally, modeling and simulation can be used to plan and optimise production lines for greater efficiency, as well as to determine how the plant interacts with the grid and the potential impact of renewable electricity generation.

For example, a customer in the food and beverage industry leveraged IOT solutions to connect its machines from their sensors to the edge to cloud.  These IOT applications can anticipate maintenance needs, reduce factory downtime and help reduce energy consumption.  This customer had a 13 percent reduction of energy usage in the first year.

And this doesn’t stop at the factory doors. A comprehensive digital twin is critical to link and analyze data across the entire operation, including supplier and partner ecosystems. A customer in the automotive industry, for example, leveraged digitalization to analyze the supplier routes coming into or leaving their facility, which not only provided visibility into the cost of shipments, but also the potential carbon footprint of those shipments. This enables logistics coordinators to identify opportunities to optimise the shipments sizes, routes and shipping methods.

The value of the digital twin does not end once the product is in service. Predictive maintenance models, for example, can enable organizations to maintain a product more effectively and proactively through its lifecycle. Additionally, digital tools can evaluate how to reuse, recycle or retire materials once the product is no longer in service.

For example, a customer who recycles lithium-ion batteries has developed an innovative, high-throughput recycling plan that sorts and recovers lithium from all types of batteries that can then be reused in the production of new electric device. Through digitalization and a data first approach the company increased its throughput from 2,000 tons to 10,000 tons per year and is well on its way to 30,000 tons.

Digital Threads for Strategic Sustainability

Digitalization enables companies to collect, analyze and apply data throughout the product lifecycle, but these changes do not happen overnight. The key is to identify practical changes that can make a real and tangible impact in each point of the digital thread, which represents the connected data and information that flows through the entire product lifecycle.  These changes are positioned into the digital threads that help companies not only make products faster, better and more profitable, but also more sustainable.  Sustainability is not a bolt-on to the products lifecycle. It is integral to the entire digitalization process starting at the concept phase.

By embracing digitalization and the implementation of a truly comprehensive digital twin with digital threads that connect data from across product development, production and service lifecycle, we are creating a true linkage between the virtual and the real. This resource can be used to drive to a revolution in how products are designed and manufactured all while achieving sustainability goals