Digital Twin Concept Uses IIoT to Enable New Business Models

Author photo: Dick Slansky
ByDick Slansky
Industry Trends
Industries are undergoing a digital transformation. Today, companies have access to technology and solutions that allow for a completely connected digital enterprise in terms of an end-to-end virtual lifecycle of product design, manufacturing processes, shop floor production systems, operational support and maintenance, and service in the field. This technology and solution set is typically offered by leading PLM suppliers and is often referred to as “closed-loop PLM”. This instance of the digital enterprise is being referred to as the “digital thread” which ties all aspects of the product lifecycle together; and enables all product stakeholders: product design, manufacturing and production systems, and product services to be able to work from a common repository of digital information.

An important aspect and enabler of the digital thread is the concept of the “digital twin”, where the physical and virtual worlds of the product including its engineering design and operational functions are connected and merged to enable everything from design improvements, continuous process improvements, conditional states of the machine/system, to operations and maintenance. Manufacturing OEMs and capital equipment suppliers are taking a hard look at existing business models around maintenance and support of their equipment. Using predictive and prescriptive analytics and the concept of continuous condition monitoring, they are considering new business models based on services and support where the OEM maintains ownership of the equipment and sells a service to the customer.

Implementing an enterprise asset management and lifecycle services strategy around the concept of the digital twin, and within the context of an overall IIoT ecosystem can provide significant benefits for both the equipment OEM and the owner-operator. For the manufacturers of long-lifecycle products, such as industrial equipment, after-sale service typically represents significant revenue streams. Some manufacturers of complex expensive products and equipment actually realize better revenue from services, MRO, and refurbishment than they do on OEM sales because margins are narrow in highly competitive markets. Additionally, smart connected products that enable the implementation of a digital twin service model will improve service and support efficiency and enable a fundamental shift from reactive service to preventative, proactive, and remote service.

Suppliers of capital equipment may now be able to offer business models that comprise operational-based revenue rather than capital equipment sales predicated on equipment that could be monitored for both performance and maintenance status. An example of this is the “power by hour” business model used by aircraft engine suppliers. Parts and services suppliers within maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) will use IIoT to monitor distributed inventories, perishable parts conditions, and production rates. This will create entirely new and very closely linked business relationships between manufacturers and their equipment suppliers.

Digital Twin Concept Directly Supports Maintenance

Perhaps one of the most significant benefits for the owner-operator of OEM furnished equipment in the field is the direct support of maintenance technicians with the latest and most accurate information on the state and condition of the equipment. Data from smart, connected equipment that has been aggregated and analyzed and transformed into actionable information is the most useful to the maintenance staff and enables them to focus directly on issues at hand, rather than going through lengthy trouble-shooting processes.

Digital Twin Business CaseOne specific area that holds promise for support and maintenance is augmented reality along with new user interfaces and mobility devices. The digital user interface of the smart, connected equipment can be put into a tablet or smartphone application, enabling remote operation and inspection and, in some cases, eliminating the need for controls while enabling greater mobility for the maintenance technician. Augmented reality is used by pointing a tablet or smartphone at the equipment, or by using smart glasses and generates a virtual model overlay over the physical equipment. This overlay contains monitoring, operational, and service information, as well as the actual engineering model of part or assembly, and makes supporting and servicing the equipment easier and more efficient.

The product designer will need to dispense with the notion of creating a non-connected, standalone product and design within the much broader context of connectivity, intelligence, and most importantly, with the inherent value the connected product will provide to its environment.

The new design paradigm also means designing to combine the physical product with the virtual, that is, designing the product to be the digital twin from the very beginning. The product lifecycle would include the concept, design, manufacture, and now in the user environment, connected and providing information to enable service and an enhanced operational and maintenance experience.

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