Date: Friday, October 4, 2019

Digital Twin helps in agile renewal of SMEs’ business

Digital transformation in the manufacturing industry is progressing at a fast pace. Industry giants, such as Siemens [1], but also numerous startup companies backed by multi-million venture capital [2] are pushing digitalisation to new levels. The main trigger for the digital transformation has been the recent technological development in areas such as the Internet of Things (IoT), simulation, data analytics, artificial intelligence, 3D printing and robotics.

Although a lot of hype surrounds these technologies, smart manufacturing (or industry 4.0) is already business-as-usual for large manufacturing corporations. However, thousands of European SMEs are still operating almost without any “smartness” in their factories. This is a major challenge for the competitiveness of the European manufacturing industry, but it also provides tremendous opportunities for organisations providing easy-to-use and easy-to-adopt solutions and services for smart manufacturing.

Test before invest – Digital Twin

One of the major challenges in digital transformation is the uncertainty about the investment in new technology. Small problems can become very costly if the manufacturing process needs to be stopped or delayed. Modern design and simulation tools allow companies to overcome these problems by designing and testing a new production process without building anything in real life. The core tool for this design process is a Digital Twin, a virtual representation of a “real-world” factory, plant, product or component. Two key benefits how it helps in the (re)designing of a factory or a certain part of the process are:

  • Visualisation and simulation help understand and avoid bottlenecks and make optimal design choices
  • Using real-life data from machines & IoT sensors can predict how a manufacturing process will perform in various circumstances

In addition to helping design new factories, Digital Twin is also widely used in improving the productivity of existing factories and production processes. Almost all large manufacturers are using Digital Twin, and according to a 2019 study by Gartner [3], 75% of organisations implementing IoT are already using or planning to invest in Digital Twins within one year. However, huge numbers of SMEs are not using Digital Twin and don’t know what benefits it could bring to them.

Also for SMEs?

Although Digital Twins are becoming mainstream, the reality for massive numbers of manufacturing SMEs is different. The main bottlenecks for adoption in SMEs are:

  • Missing digital capabilities and resources for adoption
  • Not understanding business benefits (such as ROI)

SMEs see the costs associated with building a Digital Twin, but not the upside. The benefits of a Digital Twin, especially when planning a new factory or redesigning the layout of an existing one, can be significant. A case study in the L4MS project about a new factory first designed as a Digital Twin clearly illustrates these benefits:

“Having a detailed 3D model of our factory helped us plan the factory floor layout and processes in a very detailed way, without interrupting everyday work and making sure all the processes will run the way they should. When working out the best layout, we discovered several problems that otherwise would have emerged only after implementation. Overall, for us it became absolutely clear that the more we think and plan before a change, the fewer problems we will have to deal with later… This is probably one of the reasons we managed to move the whole factory within 5 days,” says COO Kristo Timberg from Chemi-Pharm, one of three companies piloting with L4MS. 

L4MS project

L4MS Open Call is inviting European manufacturing SMEs and technology providers to apply to L4MS Open Call 1 September–30 November. To apply, teams of 2–3 partners should address an intra-logistical challenge by connecting factory equipment to OPIL (Industrial IoT platform for Logistics) and test the solution with 3D factory simulation (Visual Components). The goal is to reduce the installation time and cost of mobile robots significantly. Teams can receive funding up to €250,000 to conduct the experiments. Application form, FAQ's, Guide for Applicants and OPIL description are available here







Arto Wallin
Project Manager, VTT


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