Utilizing virtual twins to improve manufacturing operations

Virtual twins can help give manufacturers a clear and dynamic picture of a facility and help resolve supply chain and operations challenges they face.

By Chris Vavra September 1, 2023
Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Virtual twin insights

  • Manufacturers face many challenges including evolving technology, rising costs, shrinking profit margins with sustainability concerns and persistent supply chain instability.
  • Virtual twins can help and be applied in resource planning, production planning, supply chain management, and manufacturing operations, enhancing efficiency and agility.

Manufacturing, particularly automotive manufacturing, is going through many changes in the last several years and that is not going to change, said Mike Bradford, director of strategic business development at Dassault Systems in his presentation “Utilizing Digital Twins to Improve Time to Market” at the Automotive Smart Manufacturing 4.0 USA Summit 2023 in Detroit.

Four industry challenges in the automotive industry are particularly prevalent, Braford said:

  1. Evolving technology. Battery longevity for electric vehicles (EVs) as well as chargeability are critical IP.

  2. Cost. Materials and research costs continue increasing.

  3. Shrinking profit margins and the rise of sustainability. Competition and environmental requirements, particularly around sustainability, continue to increase.

  4. Supply chain instability. The supply chain was already going through challenges and the COVID-19 pandemic exposed and exacerbated them.

On the last point, Bradford said, “COVID is over, but the supply chain issues are not.”

Mike Bradford, director of strategic business development at Dassault Systems in his presentation “Utilizing Digital Twins to Improve Time to Market” at the Automotive Smart Manufacturing 4.0 USA Summit 2023 in Detroit. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Mike Bradford, director of strategic business development at Dassault Systems in his presentation “Utilizing Digital Twins to Improve Time to Market” at the Automotive Smart Manufacturing 4.0 USA Summit 2023 in Detroit. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Four ways virtual twins can be used to scale operations

Bradford said companies looking for any edge and advantage they can. One way they can simplify their issues and operations is using digital and virtual twins to help. The latter, Bradford said, can be especially valuable.

Virtual twins are a scientifically accurate virtual model of objects that can be tested to analyze and optimize how they will behave under different scenarios using real-time or experimental data.

While digital twins are isolated and linear and designed for a single purpose, Bradford said virtual twins can go beyond that and are designed to be dynamic and model-based and reusable in multiple contexts, helping manufacturers get a more complete picture of the environment around them.

The virtual twin’s scope ranges from a strategic and virtual sense and toward a tactical and real-world sense in four ways.

  1. Resource planning. A virtual twin can simulate the design and layout of new or existing facilities and required equipment or resources. Benefits include discovering layout problems sooner, detecting interference during simulation and improving manufacturing agility.

  2. Production planning. This lets the virtual twin simulate workshop operations and validate process plans, virtual builds and best practices. Benefits include determining optimal line layouts, optimizing resource utilization and reduce physical prototyping.

  3. Supply chain planning. This virtual twin can perform an end-to-end simulation of all aspects of the supply chain. This helps mitigate potential disruption, model key operations that impact business goals and improve agility.

  4. Manufacturing and operations. This lets the virtual twin extend the digital thread to the floor and reduce waste, inventory and cycle times.

Virtual twins can help improves resource planning, production planning, supply chain planning and manufacturing and operations, said Bradford. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Virtual twins can help improves resource planning, production planning, supply chain planning and manufacturing and operations, said Bradford. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Develop a clear manufacturing plan

Bradford said the benefits are great, but it doesn’t mean much if there isn’t a clear point that has clear objectives, internal support and an understanding of the required data and supporting systems.

Having a control tower designed to monitor operations and assets based on exceptions and alerts can help. The control tower can manage and investigate issues, increase visibility and improve overall collaboration by keeping workers in touch with one another.

Where companies start, Bradford said, isn’t quite as important as taking the first step forward in the first place. Even if it doesn’t work right away, the learning experience is a valuable and will lead to success down the road.

“Start the virtual twin experience any stage,” Bradford said. “It’s your digital transformation journey.”

Chris Vavra, web content manager, CFE Media and Technology, cvavra@cfemedia.com.


Author Bio: Chris Vavra is senior editor for WTWH Media LLC.