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Digital Twins in Industry

Digital Twins operate in the cyberspace. At the same time they bridge the physical space with the cyberspace. In Siemens’ vision they are a crucial component of a factory and permeate the whole PLM. Image credit: Siemens Digital Industry Software

Just finished to attend a -very interesting- (virtual) event organised by Siemens Digital Industry Software on “Digital Twins for sustainable, resilient and reconfigurable factory”.

Siemens was not the first to adopt Digital Twins (among the big guns the first was probably GE) but it is surely one of the most influential companies in the industry landscape since they develop the tools that industry -worldwide- uses.

Their Mindsphere platform is a de-facto standard for many industries and it provides full support to Digital Twins harvesting data from connected IoT.

In today’s event Siemens, part of the Smart Factory Italian Association, provided a roadmap of the PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) taking the audience step by stem through the various phases and showing how from the very beginning (their) software can support the creation of Digital Twins, interestingly, and this was a big take away for me, both the creation of the Digital Twin of the future product (no physical counterpart at that stage!) and the creation of the Digital Twin representing the factory process that will be used to manufacture the physical entity (the product). This second aspect came up really strong, and it makes -of course- a lot of sense from an industrial perspective: your margins are strongly tied to the efficiency of your production processes and when you are designing a new product you might need to design the “new” factory producing it. This means design the processes, the management of the supply chain, of the warehouses… to the point of managing the AGV (Autonomous Guided Vehicles) used within the factory to shuffle around parts.

Digital Twins, both of the future product and of the factory manufacturing that product, are feeding simulation packages whose results lead to a refinement of the design (product and processes) and a redesign of the Digital Twins. At the same time all data accumulated are recorded in a digital thread that will be used both to document the evolution and for further simulation.

The Digital Twin mirroring the factory processes (connected to the various tools used by those processes) is being used over days, weeks and months to continuously check the factory performance and the resulting product quality.

It has been pointed out the growing importance of DT throughout the PLM and the “responsibility” of the industry in creating products that are sustainable throughout their whole life cycle. They have to be designed with sustainability as a goal, it cannot be an after-thought. This is an area where Digital Twins can also play a role along with the design software: together they create a framework dictating constraints and guiding the design. This framework will be present through the operation and decommission of the product.

A final, interesting point, is that Digital Twins in the industry processes becomes integrated in the ERP software, like the one provided by SAP.

I will be discussing the application of Digital Twins to industry next week, on Sept. 28th in a lecture delivered to the IEEE Szabist Hyderabad Chapter in Pakistan (I’ll be talking from Italy) at 6pm (local time) as part of the COMSOC Distinguished Lecture Program. Since it is a virtual event you may join from anywhere. You will find connection info here, by the end of this week.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.