4 Unique Ways to Add a Digital Twin for Better Manufacturing Processes


Emily NewtonEditor-in-Chief at Revolutionized

Monday, August 8, 2022

The digital twin is a fascinating addition to the tapestry of Industry 4.0 technologies. Digital twins in manufacturing are finding their way into several industries, bringing greater transparency and planning capabilities with them. Here are some digital twin applications worth knowing about.

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4 Unique Ways to Add a Digital Twin for Better Manufacturing Processes
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A digital twin is a software representation of a system, process or machine. This visual tech pairs with other Industry 4.0 and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies in manufacturing. Sensors, software and other hardware constantly monitor workflows and mechanical assets. Digital twins gather these data streams and bring them into a detailed, realistic, virtual simulation of it all in real-time.

The benefits can be enormous. Digital twins in manufacturing surface hidden process data, empower innovation and identify in advance where bottlenecks or failures may occur. Digital twin applications range from simple to complex:

  • Asset monitoring in real-time
  • Simulations and forecasting for enterprise planning or maintenance
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning for taking more proactive actions

All this more than pays for itself in several manufacturing situations. Here are some interesting or unique ways to adopt and leverage digital twins. These applications are available today and are already yielding results.

1. Improving product testing and eliminating physical test apparatus

Celebrated automaker Maserati is an early adopter of digital twins. Developing any new machine as complex as a high-performance automobile requires wind tunnels, prototypes, test-drive courses and other expensive assets. Sometimes, it might require several expensive prototypes before arriving at a finished design, and even then, the results might not be ideal.

Maserati built an incredibly detailed digital twin of a preproduction car — the Ghibli — that represented every component within. Instead of creating or relying on physical testing apparatuses, Maserati used a digital twin to perform tests and design iterations. This digital twin application reduced development time on the vehicle by 30%.

Digital twins in manufacturing may help address issues that arise in environments with aggressively fast product-development timelines — like automotive and consumer electronics. With pressure to iterate quickly, manufacturers often can’t optimize their products for inclusivity and diverse audiences. Expect digital twins to make it easier and cheaper to test and optimize a range of consumer goods for a better experience and improved accessibility.

Improving how manufacturers test luxury automobiles is great. Strengthening the product range of consumer experiences and lifestyles is even better.

2. Observing or redesigning retail environments

Intermarché is a supermarket franchise in France that's found a unique way to put digital twins to work. The company invested in Industry 4.0 technologies in its retail stores, including advanced inventory tracking, digital sales systems, and even shelves and stock rooms with IoT sensors.

The result is that managers have an accurate, real-time, digital representation of their brick-and-mortar stores, foot traffic, inventory levels and other details. As a result, decision-makers can:

  • Observe inventory trends on the sales floor in real-time
  • Test new store designs in a simulation before physically carrying out any changes
  • Monitor for low-inventory situations in stock rooms and facilitate automated reordering

This “connected store" by Intermarché could become a model for things to come. The advantages of digital twins for retail are better inventory management, improved customer experiences and less time wasted with changes that don't end up netting results.

It also means a leaner manufacturing industry and better coordination between manufacturers, distributors and retailers. These insights suggest manufacturers won't be under as much false pressure to deliver inventory that's ultimately not necessary. Better outcomes and less waste throughout these sectors are the main takeaways here.

3. Turning condition monitoring into predictive maintenance

Condition monitoring is one of the more basic applications of the IoT, but digital twins take it further. Observing the manufacturing environment — including every machine and work area — through sensors and digital technologies yields a constant stream of data. In turn, this information fuels digital-twin simulations and provides a new level of proactivity for machine maintenance. Staying on top of upkeep is the best way to avoid unplanned downtime.

One example with high stakes is anticipating when maintenance will become necessary on the mechanical structures or equipment used in manufacturing.

Akselos is a company that provides digital twins for the energy industry. It can model everything from wind-turbine blade performance to the waves hitting the side of an oil rig. Predicting failure using historical data typically yields models that are "coarse," according to Akselos' CEO, Thomas Leurent.

Predictive maintenance powered by digital twins is far more effective and less wasteful compared to routine maintenance. Some smaller companies have observed a 40% reduction in "reactive" maintenance tickets — and the associated work stoppages and profit losses. They also saw savings in the $360,000-per-year ballpark after just 12 months of using a digital twin for modeling manufacturing equipment.

4. Designing bespoke products and medical treatments

A time is fast approaching when health care facilities and specialist doctors' offices, both large and small, will have access to fascinating digital twin applications.

Manufacturing is becoming more capable of producing small runs of customized products at a lower cost. 3D printing is fueling that change, and so are digital twins. Health care manufacturing is an emerging nexus of both.

Cardiac specialists can now simulate the function of the heart and blood vessels in their patients using digital twins. These detailed visualizations allow physicians to model the possible effects of a new drug or medical implant.

The impact on manufacturing could be astonishing. 3D printers have already elevated manufacturers' ability to create highly personalized products. Imagine combining the fast, cheap customization abilities of 3D printers with detailed medical models of patients undergoing treatment. Physicians could fabricate fully customized implants and prostheses that fit people far better than current devices.

3D printers are also being evaluated for their ability to print custom medication formulas on demand. This is another area that would benefit tremendously from digital twins' data-aggregation and simulation capabilities. The combination of technologies could end one-size-fits-all pharmaceuticals for good.

Using a digital twin in manufacturing

Improving how goods are manufactured or sold and making the processes more effective and less wasteful benefits everybody.

One area not mentioned yet is the concept of a circular economy. This is where manufacturers make wiser, longer-term choices about product designs, material choices and fabrication techniques to take the entire life cycle of a product into account. A circular economy demands understanding the long-term consequences of people's actions. Digital twins can provide this.

Digital twins mean designers and manufacturers can anticipate how their products will impact consumers and the world. Modeling changes to a factory before making them, simulating the next iteration of a product before building it, or making sure a medical device functions as intended before implanting it are all innovations that boost quality of life. They all start with digital twin applications in manufacturing.

Emily Newton

Emily is a tech and industrial journalist with over four years of experience writing articles for the industrial sector. She’s Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, an online publication exploring innovations in manufacturing, technology and science. 


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