The Industries Doubling Down on Digital Twins
Author: Luca Legnani - European Marketing Manager for Panasonic Mobile Solutions Business Division
Digital twin technology is finding its way into digitalisation strategies everywhere, including companies like Renault and Unilever and even the city of Shanghai. Why is it so useful, and what industries are embracing this innovative technology?
The age of industry 4.0 is well underway, and the powerful impact of leveraging data to measure, predict, and constantly improve operations is well-accepted in modern business.
One of the most common ways to do this is through leveraging the Internet of Things (IoT), which creates a network of internet-facing objects across a business, whether that be within a warehouse, a water processing plant, or a shop floor. These devices then feed vital data across the network and to a central hub to inform decisions around productivity.
But the rise of digital twins in industry 4.0 takes this concept one step further. Digital twin technology uses a range of sensors and data to build a real-time digital replica of a physical object or process, one that can predict outcomes with a high level of accuracy, spot inefficiencies, and can even trial new approaches or operational strategies without impacting on output.
It is no surprise, then, that digital twins are finding their way into the digitalisation strategies of all kinds of organisations, including companies like Renault and Unilever and even whole cities, such as Shanghai. So, what are the use cases?
Efficiency is what drives success in all businesses, but in the industries that make up Critical National Infrastructure, efficiency and reliability is vital.
General Electric (GE)’s renewable energy business uses a digital twin of its wind farm, allowing the company to optimise each active wind turbine and even inform the design of future turbines to generate higher output. GE reports that doing this can increase energy production by as much as 20%, equating to an incredible $100 million in additional revenue per turbine.
And of course, one way to improve efficiency is to remove downtime. The sensors on each wind turbine can also relay live data on when one turbine may need maintenance. This allows field engineers, equipped with rugged, reliable mobile devices, to be proactive in maintaining turbines, while ensuring network uptime with maximum predictability. For offshore and remote windfarms, this is especially helpful in allowing field engineers to prioritise time and resources, only making the trips when they are truly needed, helping to reduce overall downtime and waste.
Another popular application for digital twin technology is in creating heatmaps to track activity across a space.
Within warehouses, this capability allows warehouse managers to ensure that they are running a productive environment, one in which workflows are as efficient as possible for current needs. For example, if a furniture warehouse stores its dining tables four aisles away from its dining chairs, then pickers might not be working in the most efficient way if the company receives a large proportion of dining room orders. Digital twins can be used to identify these patterns in workflow, allowing managers to better optimise the warehouse layout, saving valuable minutes per order.
Similarly, a digital twin of a shop floor allows retailers to track what items and sections are in demand, applying up-to-date learnings to improve their merchandising strategies. The real-time data that a digital twin offers means that even seasonal demands can be quickly identified for organisations to make the best choices all year round.
As hinted at earlier, one final and brilliant use case for digital twins across all industries is in helping businesses to make informed decisions on how to configure and run a system or process.
In these situations, the digital twin is used to simulate the likely impact of a change to a current system, from implementing more energy-efficient delivery processes in a supply chain to monitoring the effect of additional insulation on a property’s energy usage. This allows an organisation to trial a new system or process, with the twin technology either displaying the potential success of this change or highlighting possible improvements, all without impacting real-world output.
I have chosen two energy-centric examples for this use case because that is where this is most promising: recent research found that 57% of organisations believe that digital twin technology is critical to improving sustainability efforts.
Our customers may be currently using their TOUGHBOOK devices to track workflows and operations that have been made more efficient through a digital twin of their working environment. As we see more and more digital twin technology being used in the world around us, I am excited to see the potential of industry 4.0 come to fruition in a way that seems fitting for a sci-fi movie – and I am especially excited to see what role we play!
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