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DT evolution in Manufacturing – XI

Digital twins are becoming a widespread tool in the operation and management of wind farms. Notice in this graphic that the digital twin does much more than just mirroring the wind mill. It connects to a variety of entities in the cyberspace, including processes, other equipment and people. Image credit: Hooman Mohammadi Moghadam

General Electric, as already mentioned, has been working for several years applying DTs to the energy production, specifically using them to monitor and control wind turbines. Wind farms are costly and complex systems where efficiency can be increased by fine tweaking of the blades angle and this in turns alters the flow of the air (wind blowing across the wind farm). Hence the fine tuning has to take into account the impact on other wind mills to achieve not a local best but a global optimisation. Also, monitoring is important to enable proactive maintenance, rather than having to resort to recovery maintenance. GE equipped wind farms all over the world have digital twins for each single wind mill, digital twins mimicking the processes and a digital twin for the whole farm. These digital twins are “hosted” on Amazon AWS Cloud providing both a local presence and a centralised hub (in the cyberspace there are no distances). 

Digital Twins are talking with one another both among the ones mirroring equipment in a specific wind farm and across wind farms. Machine learning is used to create knowledge and to fine tune processes and operation/maintenance decision as part of the GE Assets Performance Management Software -APM-.

Interestingly, the creation of digital twins to mirror local conditions, processes and equipment (in addition to the ones provided by GE that is already delivered with its associated DT), can be done using a Digital Twin library provided by GE that has reduced the time to create a customised DT by 75%.

Operation data from the wind farms are reporting a 40% decrease in reactive maintenance, thanks to the use of Digital Twins.

A further interesting feature of GE DTs is that they can be used as knowledge repository. When a staff turnover occur the DTs can be used for training the new staff and they can also be used to let the new staff get in touch with experienced ones located in other parts of the world, a very smart use of DTs showing the convergence of product-service-knowledge.

This extended use of the Digital Twin has some aspects that would place it at stage 5.

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 New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. 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.