Building a digital replica of an industrial process that is so accurate that the manufacturing company concerned can use this to shape its decisions about the real-world process. Beneath the banner of Digital Twinning, TNO combines data, models, and the business process to create a digital life cycle that parallels the physical life cycle.
From data in the factory to flexible programming – these days, everything revolves around digitisation. Dutch manufacturing industry will succeed in maintaining its competitive position at international level, provided that it continues to use smart approaches to link up products, machines, and people, and to make use of the very latest technologies. One of the focal areas that TNO uses to make this possible is Digital Twinning.
“We use Digital Twinning to study ways of doing things digitally, so that we don’t have to do them in the real world. Alternatively, this can help us to prevent these situations from occurring in the real world,” explains Jeroen Broekhuijsen of TNO. “Imagine, for example, that you are studying a particular dyke. Deliberately cutting through the dyke is not an option, given the horrible consequences that this would entail. The only way to do it is digitally. The same goes for machines in your factory or, more particularly, just before these machines are due to be sent to the customer.”
The key question to ask before proceeding with Digital Twinning is ‘What does the entrepreneur actually want to achieve?’. For some, that is the ability to perform a highly accurate analysis of virtual products in 3D animations – to ensure that they won’t fail during use. For others, it is all about the opportunity to monitor, analyse, and compare the real-world production process with its twin. Because the latter represents the idealised process, it can be used to optimise planning and shorten lead times. TNO has identified ten different goals in this context, which it often encounters in practice.
Once the goal has been established, the entrepreneur then has to select the unit on which the Digital Twin is to be modelled. TNO has developed a seven-step method for this purpose. This includes identifying the information needed to create a Digital Twin and ensuring that it is sufficiently accurate. And finally, based on the outcome of the Digital Twin technology, what decision will the entrepreneur make?
To this end, TNO holds workshops in which, together with entrepreneurs, the step-by-step plan is examined. Mr Broekhuijsen notes that “After a couple of afternoons’ work, your plan is complete and you are good to go. So that’s very practical. We also have the in-house expertise needed to help develop models or to access data from machines.”
Companies that are keen to get started in practice – so that they can learn from that experience – are very welcome at the various field labs in which TNO is active. The Digital Factory Composites field lab, for example, focuses on digitising the production process used to create composite products. The goal is to achieve dramatic cost cuts and to facilitate the use of composites in many more products.
TNO is also active at European level. “We are one of the drivers of a major EU project,” adds Jeroen Broekhuijsen. “Here, we are trying to identify what is needed to enable SMEs to embrace Digital Twin technologies. We are also offering companies an assessment tool that they can use to specify their vision of digitisation. After all, without such a vision, it’s very difficult to get the ball rolling.”
There is no shortage of success stories. For example, working with a company that produces programmable logic controllers (PLCs), TNO has been able to make all the data required for such control available outside the machine. In the event of a malfunction, this enables technicians to correctly diagnose the problem remotely. Another case might involve the virtual reproduction of a machine in 3D, which enables the company involved to simulate and optimise the production process.
“So you see, there are numerous variants of Digital Twins,” Mr Broekhuijsen concludes. “The IT setup is designed to link data to models, which enables us to simulate all kinds of scenarios. Then, based on the results, we are able to make the right decisions. Some companies already have a model of their own, in other cases we build one for them. Some have already collected their own data, in other cases we assist with this process. The sky’s the limit.”
Would you like to team up with TNO, either in the role of integrator or manufacturing industry end user, to use Digital Twinning to help make the digital factory of the future a reality? Check out the projects at our website, or contact Jeroen Broekhuijsen directly.