Digital twins: Modelling your company’s future

Posted on 3 May 2018 by The Manufacturer

The argument for the adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies appears to have been won, but manufacturers remain hesitant about investing in their companies’ future because the message around ROI is uncertain.

Andrew Aitken, COO of simulation technology company Lanner, says that to accelerate 4.0 technology adoption the benefits of implementation need to be demonstrated more clearly.

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It’s not enough to just build a digital twin of assets, the greatest benefit lies in creating twins at a higher level, exposing end-to-end business processes.

The technologies of Industry 4.0 offer an exciting renaissance for the manufacturing industry, but when much of the excitement and hype is unwrapped, there’s not a great deal of clarity.

This clarity is required to encourage decision-makers to move from attending conferences to actually spending money and start making progress with the implementation of key 4.0 technologies and methods.

Here in the UK, we’ve a wealth of top-down, government-led enthusiasm, which is great to see. We also have some great momentum and support from the HVM Catapult centres such as the MTC, AMRC and AFRC, with encouraging levels of investment being made.

However, with this investment also comes a wave of vendor hype. In Lanner, we’ve heard decision-makers across our customer base, from SME’s to global firms, all saying that it would be more helpful if they could understand the impact of new technologies within the ever-expanding digital toolkit within their specific operational context.

They want to see how they can get immediate returns and maximise the ‘bang for their buck’.

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Destination unknown?

Alongside the technological complexities, manufacturing leaders also need to consider the impact on the internal dynamics of their businesses, because introducing new smart technologies to enable data and analytics-driven processes requires new skill-sets, training and culture change from top to bottom.

It requires a new mindset altogether. Have no doubt, Introducing Industry 4.0 isn’t about playing with tech, it’s a complex change management task.

One of the most important aspects for any change management process is being very clear about the destination. At present, that top down clarity and purpose isn’t clear for many.

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It’s vital, particularly in smaller companies, to articulate the specific commercial benefits if the end-to-end impact of implementing these new technologies isn’t clear.

Companies are being encouraged to introduce the tech, produce the data and then think about what valuable insights can be extracted. This bottom-up approach is fine for R&D thinking, but it’s doesn’t form the basis for an acceptable cost-benefit justification.

It’s vital, particularly in smaller companies, to articulate the specific commercial benefits if the end-to-end impact of implementing these new technologies isn’t clear.

Whether the technology concerned is predictive maintenance, virtual reality, artificial intelligence or collaborative robotics (‘cobots’); the short-term payback is the honey in the pot that will get everyone on board, not long-term potential benefits.

The power of digital twins

Lanner has been investing and working with the HVM Catapult centres, including the MTC and AMRC, to create predictive digital twin demonstrators, enabled by predictive simulation, which are highly visual and encourage an understanding of how cutting-edge techniques will positively or negatively impact different business operations.

One of the most powerful benefits that I see in digitalisation is the ability for a business not just to build a digital twin of its assets (its products and machines), but to create twins at a higher level, exposing end-to-end business processes and supply chains.

This allows Industry 4.0 decision-making to become more intelligent and connected, linking key business questions to the data.

Questions on technologies can be then be put into the specific context of high-level business goal and solving wider operational process problems. Lanner’s business is the creation of predictive digital twins of operational and business processes.

Companies that use our technologies want to know more than real-time diagnostics around their processes, they want to go beyond such insight into foresight, creating a predictive digital twin of their specific business operation to understand the future impact of new technologies, new customer demands and test new business models.

The use of predictive simulation to power such twins is well proven within our larger clients, but can be deployed for any firm setting out on the 4.0 journey and needing to better understand the pros and cons that new technology or business model options bring.

Predictive simulation can give better clarity and understanding to decision-makers and show what is happening today – and what can be done to create a more prosperous tomorrow.

To discover more on predictive simulation and digital twins, register now for Lanner’s 2018 Predictive Simulation Conference, in partnership with the AMRC: