Essence of digital enterprise: Three types of digital twins

Use of factory digitalization is expected to result in nearly double the production capacity, 20% less product launch time, 20% increase in personnel utilization and 40% increase in space utilization.

By Stone Shi July 3, 2021


Learning Objectives

  • Digital twins can be applied and networked throughout the product lifecycle.
  • Significant increase in factory throughput and product launch time result from digital twin use.

Digital is driving many changes in the manufacturing industries, and a major manufacturer and automation supplier is showing how it’s done. With flexible and efficient production, shorter time to market and better product quality, digitization is making these manufacturing visions reality for products, production and performance.

Siemens, among the initial originators and builders of “Industry 4.0,” has taken digital enterprises as a market strategy from the beginning. In April 2019, Siemens completed the merger of their Digital Factory (DF)and Process Industries and Drives (PD) divisions to become Siemens Digital Industries (DI) with a focus on digital business.

From digital roadmap to implementation

From 2014 to 2020, Siemens has enhanced digital enterprises through six years of exploration and practice. It has mature solutions and successful application cases, progressing from methodology to roadmap, digital twins, lifecycle digitalization, consulting and implementation. At the beginning of 2021, the general managers of Siemens Digital Industries collectively appeared at a media conference and gave an in-depth explanation of the digital enterprise.

Digital twins for products, production, performance

Wang Haibin, executive vice president of Siemens Ltd., China and general manager of Siemens Greater China Digital industries, said Siemens’s core value proposition and technical route is creating three types of digital twins through digital technologies: 1) product digital twins, using digital twins for efficient design of new products; 2) production digital twins, using digital twins in manufacturing and production planning; and 3) performance digital twins, which captures, analyzes and acts on operational data.

Wang Haibin stressed that digital twin creation isn’t as important as the interconnection of data behind the three types of digital twins. A large amount of data will be generated in the design and operation of products or product lines. For enterprises, the important driving force of productivity and innovation is to compare if the design data is consistent with the actual operation data, how much consistency there is, and what problems are explained if they are inconsistent, to help drive the next iteration of products.

Behind this interconnection lies the needs for industrial software, the underlying basic automation data, and the collection of data during operation, using technologies such as industrial internet, cloud and edge computing. Siemens offers the creation and interconnection of three digital twins along the complete value chain of product development and manufacturing processes as well as plant management. Siemens NX 3D and Teamcenter are software packages for product development, Comos is factory engineering design software; TIA Portal, Simatic IT, PSE, Mendix and MindSphere cloud platform serve performance areas. Siemens creates the integration of virtuality and reality and applies digital twins to the industrial scene and process throughout product development and workshop production.

Digital twins have been discussed and implemented for several years in many applications from the initial product 3D design simulation and process design simulation to the present digital delivery and virtual debugging. Fewer applications of digital twins achieve connectivity. Siemens has been applying the three digital twins to its own factories.

Factory digital twin applications

Li Lei, general manager of Siemens CNC (Nanjing) Co. Ltd., said the first original digital chemical plant in China, the new SNC factory, with three digital twins as the core, was expected to be completed in May 2021. The factory has relied on Siemens’ own digital concepts and digital simulation technology. From demand analysis to plant construction and operation, the process is based on digital twins, and the processes are interconnected. The general database system collects all the data to simulate, test and adjust. During the operation process, the system also can be monitored in real time and finally feedback and optimized.

The SNC factory also closely integrates product development and supply chain synergy management through digitalization and lean manufacturing. The three links of product digitization, production digitization and performance digitization in the new factory are connected with each other, and a unified digital platform, unified database and unified simulation and analysis method are used, so if there are problems, they can be quickly fed back to research and development (R&D), and the R&D team can agilely improve and upgrade as needed.

According to Li Lei, the new SNC factory will achieve nearly double the production capacity, 20% reduction in product launch time, 20% increase in personnel utilization and 40% increase in space utilization.

In addition to SNC factory, Siemens has released its “digital native” numerical control (NC) system Sinumerik One. The system has multi-function software to create corresponding digital twins, which can help machine users and machine tool manufacturers create digital twins and conduct virtual machine tool commissioning. With digital twins, non-production activities, such as testing and running of new NC programs can be transferred to virtual environment.

Stone Shi is executive editor-in-chief, Control Engineering China. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology,

KEYWORDS: Industrial digitalization, industrial digital twin

Digital twins can be applied and networked throughout the product lifecycle.

Significant increase in factory throughput and product launch time result from digital twin use.


If a competitor nearly doubles capacity with a 40% increase in space utilization, and 20% gain in personnel utilization, will you compete?

Author Bio: Executive editor-in-chief, Control Engineering China