Companies need to evolve their manufacturing systems to support what can be called data-driven, end-to-end adaptive operations, where systems respond automatically to both known and new scenarios.
Yet this is easier said than done. As manufacturers strive to progress toward adaptive operations, they are hampered by the traditional and siloed architecture of their manufacturing systems. This architecture limits use cases that go beyond individual assets and one single function, and doesn’t allow for the acquisition, integration, and analysis of vast amounts of data.
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How Digital Twins Can Help
This is why the concept of digital twins is receiving more attention from manufacturing leaders.
At the core of the digital twin is the ability to bring data together from multiple sources, unify, and contextualize it. It offers a single solution for people and applications that can utilize this contextualized data repository for a variety of use cases.
Digital Twins Frequently Asked Questions
As manufacturing leaders explore digital twins as a solution, there remain uncertainties around implementation. Here are the most frequently asked questions and what we’ve learned:
1) Why are digital twins a game changer?
Digital twins provide relevant context, not just data. They allow information to be captured and relationships to be mapped throughout the organization. This supports a progressive evolution toward fully autonomous operations.
Traditional siloed manufacturing systems’ architectures are challenged by highly heterogeneous information. When combined with the lack of context surrounding the data, engineers working with these systems struggle to pull valuable insights that can assist in optimizing business operations.
Digital twin technology enables progressive learning and the ability to capture tacit knowledge, a key enabler of reaching autonomous operations. In fact, this technology stores and structures information in a way engineers and operators can understand, which ultimately reduces reliance on data analysts for day-to-day issues and leads to greater organizational efficiency.
Digital twins give engineers and operators control and accountability for the manufacturing data and related solutions. By combining the power of the digital twin and modern low-code/no-code tools, manufacturing leaders can provide data engineers a safe domain in which they can collaborate to develop new ways of optimizing operations.
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2) Can you leverage digital twins without having to replace all underlying solutions?
Yes. An inclusive and unified manufacturing architecture remains the foundation of manufacturing operations across industries. Manufacturing leaders can implement a digital twin in parallel with existing systems.
Leveraging data from existing systems, the digital twin allows manufacturers to extract greater value from years of investment without the need to “rip and replace.” By harnessing the power and flexibility of cloud platforms and technologies, digital twin technology allows manufacturers to capture data from both information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) systems—from enterprise resource planning (ERP) to programmable logic controllers (PLCs) to supply chain to distribution—and contextualize it quickly and effectively.
Although a complete redesign of traditional systems is not required to take advantage of digital twin technology, previously integrated systems should not remain completely untouched. Manufacturing leaders should work to streamline their existing manufacturing architecture to:
- Create a data-driven templated approach and abstraction layer, which allows for simplification and standardization without having to replace expensive equipment at the site.
- Move high-value specific developments (e.g., what conditions upstream may be causing failures downstream), most of which are about data and AI, to the twin environment.
- Reinforce the “vertical” integration between ERP and shop floor systems, which establishes a robust and efficient execution engine.
- Integrate the twin domains—execution and optimization—progressively over time.
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3) How are vendors of manufacturing execution systems (MES) positioning themselves versus the major cloud platforms and Internet of Things vendors?
MES are the backbone of the current manufacturing IT/OT stack. They will continue to be important as more manufacturers transition toward next-generation manufacturing operations management (MOM) architectures.
MES vendors are evolving their solutions to increase their footprint, leveraging the flexibility of the cloud, while at the same time, facilitating their integration into future-ready manufacturing architectures. This stems from the increased competition they face from IT players, including both specialized startups and cloud vendors.
As vendors continue to broaden their offerings and evolve their portfolios, they are focusing on platforms that include data historians, quality management systems, asset performance management, and warehouse management solutions. Since leaders today are offering a much-improved range of core capabilities, packed with industry-specific best practices, this is enabling faster rollouts with limited customization.
Another major trend throughout the industry is cloud deployment. This significantly eases integration into the overall MOM architecture, while reducing the cost of MES deployments, all while enabling easier rollout across sites.
Additionally, MES vendors are increasingly providing more flexible offerings that can help manufacturers under budget and help capacity constraints pivot from large, CAPEX investments to incremental subscriptions. When combined with accelerated deployment, this makes MES deployments easier to justify financially. These developments have put MES back on decision-makers’ radars as they look to design their Industry 4.0 roadmaps.
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About the Author:
Pascal Brosset, Global Production and Operations Lead, Accenture Industry X