Digital Twins – Feedback Loops and PLM Challenge
This is a further followup to my previous articles on digital twins, focusing on the Feedback Loop pillar
Smart Factory loop
The feedback loop starts with the Smart Factory. This is a fully digitalized factory model of a production system connected via sensors, SCADA systems, PLCs or other automation devices to the main product lifecycle management (PLM) data repository. In the Smart Factory, all events on the physical shop floor during production are recorded and directly pushed back to the PLM system or through the cloud. Artificial intelligence (AI) technology is used to study and analyze this information, and the main findings are sent back to either product development
in manufacturing planning or facility planning.
Why is this important? Production facilities and the manufacturing processes tends to change immediately after start of production. New ideas will be implemented, new working methods will be deployed and new suppliers might be selected; all requiring changes to the production system or process. Since these modifications will certainly impact the future, updating them in the system at this stage is becoming a must. Production systems outlive the product lifecycle, and many companies use their production systems to make multiple products. These factors contribute to the increasing need to regularly capture these changes in the PLM system, which can later be used to distribute this information to all parties. The information collected during production can also serve as the basis for improving the maintainability of manufacturing resources. With this information, we can enable much better (sensor) condition-based maintenance, and thus increase uptime and productivity.
Smart product loop
Almost every product made today is a smart product. Many companies are looking for ways to improve the connection with their smart products while they are being used by their customers. Monitoring product use can provide a lot of knowledge for improving products. More than that, connecting to these smart products can generate a new type of business model that may result in more competitive offerings.
These feedback loops and the data it generate is a challenge for PLM too. In the short term, the PLM issue for digital twins is how IoT-gathered data can best be put to work—extrapolated, parsed, and redirected? To where? At whose direction? The quick and easy solutions are analytics running on the cloud, machine-to-machine (M2M), and analyses based on Artificial Intelligence (AI). Such questions are expected as digital twins emerge as the next revolution in both data management and lifecycle management.
Ultimately, the use of PLM will allow us to bring digital twins into close correspondence—in sync—with their physical equivalents in the real world. When this comes to pass, we can expect problems to be uncovered more quickly, products to be supported. Products with digital twins will be more reliable with less downtime while operating more efficiently and at lower cost. PLM-powered digital twins will boost user and owner confidence in their physical products. Ultimately, digital twins reflect what users and owners expect to receive when they sign a contract or purchase order.