Where physical meets digital – how digital twins are unearthing new insights for asset-intensive organizations

Michael Ouissi Profile picture for user Michael Ouissi April 28, 2022
Digital twins can increase predictability of future maintenance of mission-critical, high-cost, and often complex assets, thereby lowering risk for organizations in asset-intensive industries. Michael Ouissi, Chief Customer Officer, IFS, examines the value for three such industries.

digital twin concept machine learning © local_doctor - Shutterstock
( © local_doctor - Shutterstock)

In a recent analysis, Deloitte explains why digital twins have shown such phenomenal recent growth:

Digital twins are poised to transform the way companies perform predictive maintenance of products and machinery in the field. Sensors embedded in the machines feed performance data into a digital twin in real time. This makes it possible to identify and address malfunctions before they happen and to tailor service and maintenance plans to better meet unique customer needs.

A digital twin is an up-to-date and accurate copy of the physical object’s properties and states, including position, shape, status, and motion. As a digital representation, it provides both the elements and the dynamics of how a connected asset operates throughout its lifecycle. Using this technology, an organization can increase predictability and lower risks.

While the technology has been discussed within industry circles for the last three to four years, it’s the next half decade which will truly demonstrate the power and value of digital twins.

Digital twins poised for explosive growth

Market&Markets’ research indicates that in 2020 the global digital twin market size was valued at 3.1 billion USD and is projected to reach 48.2 billion USD by 2026. It is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 58% during the forecast period.

This growth forecast has been fuelled by pandemic induced challenges, supply chain disruption, and changing maintenance approaches which have given rise to increased adoption of digital twins. The research highlights North America as the leader of digital twins market share, with asset-intensive organizations among the key end-users of digital twin technology.

In my experience with IFS, down at the asset level is where our customers are really exploring the value of digital twins right now. In particular, there are three industries where digital twin technology is really taking hold — energy, utilities & resources, manufacturing, and aerospace & defense.

1. Energy, utilities and resources – bouncing back from Covid

A recent report from GlobalData highlights how digital twins are set to become a “mainstay” in the sector, particularly given the pressures stemming from the pandemic. Digital twins are highlighted as improving overall asset visibility to identify areas for cost reduction and ensuring long-term sustainable operations.

The reason behind this potential boom is that leaders in the industry have been prioritizing the introduction of the Internet of Things (IoT) over recent years. Take the oil and gas industry for example, where companies have connected IoT sensors to hundreds of assets on each of their oil rigs.

This IoT approach lays the foundation to incorporate a digital twin strategy. A digital twin could provide an onshore head office with real-time, as-is visibility of each individual rig’s condition and performance across the end-to-end process — with the potential for combining connected IoT sensors and on-rig asset management data.

Once the IoT data is fed into an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, this forms the basis for reducing maintenance costs and increasing productivity by driving operational efficiencies. This allows leaders at oil and gas companies to achieve a real “as-designed,” “as-built,” “as-operated” visibility into their fleet of globally distributed assets. This visibility enables them to quickly and efficiently re-plan and reposition the fleet to access new opportunities globally.

2. Manufacturing – digital twins mean it’s time to take Industry 4.0 to new heights

Digital twins are also at the forefront of Industry 4.0 manufacturing, which brings advanced technologies onto the factory floor. Supported by the growth of IoT in the manufacturing industry, digital twins will be used to increase productivity and reduce costs. A recent study by Research and Markets indicates up to 89% of all IoT platforms will include digital twins by 2025.

TEST-FUCHS, a leading manufacturer of test systems and components for aerospace & defense organizations, is an IFS customer utilizing digital twins. TEST-FUCHS has a dedicated digital twin approach for ground support assets and test equipment.

As a manufacturer of the assets, TEST-FUCHS looks at the engineering, design, and procurement data of the asset it is selling. TEST-FUCHS also has full control of an IoT-enabled test facility to provide maintenance data in real-time and then execute that maintenance in its repair shop. This gives the company a deep view of the data which builds up in an asset’s lifecycle and provides visibility across the entire digital twin landscape around every asset. IFS Applications plays a prominent role in this environment — enabling TEST-FUCHS to build up an enterprise-wide picture of their business processes to put the digital twin strategy into action.

3. Aerospace & Defense – Rolls Royce sets the standard

Being able to truly predict asset issues before they happen is the holy grail of predictive maintenance. Commercial aviation and defense organizations are exploring digital twins to improve maintenance practices.  

IFS customer, Rolls-Royce, is combining the physical and digital worlds by using digital twins to make data-driven decisions, increase availability, and minimize unexpected maintenance disruption. In addition to MRO data from Rolls-Royce engine facilities, the engine supplier is collecting data from multiple sources, such as information on engine health from airline maintenance management systems and contextual real-time engine flying conditions.

The IFS aviation maintenance solution Maintenix then automates two-way data sharing to allow Rolls-Royce to collaborate and share much more information about the work which happens on their engines with airlines. For example, information on which engine parts have been switched or inspected and even if any other aircraft systems have been impacted by engine behavior can easily be shared. The result of this two-way exchange is an even more complete picture of engine performance. This allows for a higher resolution digital twin and a way to deliver these digital insights to improve physical part use while in-service.

In the defense industry, digital twins are also at the heart of a new US Navy maintenance program. The Naval Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (N-MRO) solution combines artificial intelligence (AI), digital twin capabilities, and predictive analytics to anticipate and react to potential equipment failures before they happen. This proactive solution will contribute to the enhanced support of maintenance, supply logistics, real-time fleet management, and other business functions for more than 3,000 assets and 200,000 sailors. The program is supported by an IFS intelligent maintenance solution along with Lockheed Martin’s expertise and the software developer Beast Code.

Enterprise technology breaching the digital and physical worlds

Ultimately, agile and flexible enterprise software is essential for organizations to truly realize the potential of digital twin technology. 

An effective digital twin strategy requires the support of software geared toward data-driven decision-making. Much of the data required for digital twin technology sits within supporting business applications. Assets are mapped within enterprise software such as historical maintenance data, work orders, and original engineering and design data. In some cases, supporting enterprise applications act as a digital twin of certain processes, while in others the enterprise software could be the source of the digital twin.

Seeing double in the future

As Deloitte explains in its technology analysis:

Increased availability of and access to powerful and inexpensive computing power, network, and storage are key enablers of digital twins. Some software companies are making significant investments in cloud-based platforms, IoT, and analytics capabilities that will enable them to capitalize on the digital twins trend. Some of these investments are part of an ongoing effort to streamline the development of industry-specific digital twin use cases.

One thing is for certain — many industries are looking to capitalize on the potential of digital twins in the coming years. Those who have the right software building blocks in place are best poised to capitalize on one of the most promising operational and business technologies available right now.

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