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Digital Twins – Another Way CAD Can Help Grow Your Business

This post is the latest in our series on new technologies impacting industrial manufacturers and distributors. Earlier posts have included IIoT3D PrintingGenerative Design5GArtificial IntelligenceDigital Marketing with CADBlockchain and this one is on Digital Twins.

What is a Digital Twin?

A digital twin is a virtual counterpart of a physical object. Whatever happens to the physical twin is done to the digital twin. It can be as simple a a single component (for example, a bearing), an assembly of components in a discrete part (for example, a motor), a complete machine (for example, the elevators in a building), or a complete plant (for example, an oil refinery). A digital twin usually starts as a CAD model but then is updated to reflect specific changes, updates or maintenance done to the physical object. For example imagine a digital model of your car, updated to reflect everything done to it in each service, recall or maintenance incident in its life.

How are Digital Twins used?

Defining them is easy, using them effectively in an industrial context is much harder. The digital twin of a production asset must retain the original design data used to create it, add any unique characteristics of its particular physical twin (maybe as simple as layout of feeding conveyors) plus contain all the updates and the maintenance history. It must bridge the gap between design and engineering tools such as CAD and product lifecycle management (PLM) and the real-time production automation solutions used for ongoing operation and optmization. In so doing,the digital twin creates a contextual framework for all the big data generated by or about the physical asset over its useful life.

Digital Twins are used in three ways:

  • Product Twins – to simulate components – for example, where to place audio speakers in a car or theater to simulate and understand the audio experience in any location within the model.
  • Production Twins – to simulate or monitor production processes – for example, heat sensors on all motors to monitor operating temperature and if or when a temperature profile is exceeded to highlight a potential problem.
  • Performance Twins – to predict performance – for example, airlines try to keep their planes flying continuously to maximize revenue, so when should they do maintenance? GE and Rolls Royce first sell them jet engines,  then sell them monitoring services to decide when to do preventative maintenance.

How can Digital Twins help grow your business?

There are many ways but let’s focus on those that can produce new revenue streams for your business.

The convergence of Digital Twin technology with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) particularly wireless communications with low (and getting lower) cost sensors, the decreasing cost of Cloud storage and Edge Computing plus Artificial Intelligence via Machine Learning on the resulting huge data sets are all combining to facilitate new revenue streams. For example:

  • Data as a Service – delivering data for analysis (in realtime or otherwise) or doing the analysis and delivering insights such as alerts to the customer
  • Energy use as a service – monitoring and optimizing energy use.
  • Operational efficiency – offering control loop performance optimization, or preventative maintenance field visits when machines are shut down.
  • Product improvements – through monitoring and analysis you upgrade components to improve your machines and without the customer even knowing about it you upgrade their versions of the machines.

3 Conclusions:

1. The key realization is that those that “own” the digital twin model, own the business as well. If you can deliver a complete solution at a good ROI to your customers you should benefit commercially from new revenue streams. Furthermore these revenue streams will likely be annuity ones, recurring monthly, quarterly or annual revenue! To get started think about what new services you could offer your customers then look at the digital twin capabilities of your CAD supplier – most CAD-focused companies (for example, PTC, Siemens, and Dassault) are rushing to serve this market.

2. Depending on what services you offer, you will likely need some software capability in-house, see IIoT – Every Company is becoming a Software Company!

3. CAD is the investment that keeps on giving! If you’ve been keeping up with the potential of CAD:

  • You first used 3D CAD to help design your products faster, more accurately and more efficiently.
  • Then you re-used them for online marketing – see Digital Marketing with CAD – Get the FAQs!
  • Then perhaps you re-used them as the basis of Finite Element Models (FEM) to Finite Element Analysis (FEA) to understand stresses and perhaps reduce weight?
  • Then perhaps you re-used them to drive CNC machines or 3D Printing machines if not Additive Manufacturing.
  • Now you can re-use them yet again as digital twins as product twins, production twins and/or performance twins.

As always, if you have comments or suggestions please make them below, click to ask us a question or call for a discussion. In the meantime we’ll continue to keep you up-to-date on eCommerce and new technologies impacting industrial suppliers



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