COVID-19: digital twins in the future of manufacturing
Ali Nicholl, Head of Engagement, Iotics, outlines the need for digital twins and how Rolls-Royce Power Systems demonstrates the manufacturing benefits
We live in a world of data and controls, legacy systems and siloes of information, where infrastructure and architecture are built around internal systems and processes. While it’s true the manufacturing industry was transforming its digital operations pre-the COVID crisis, the current market volatility caused by the virus has brought previous challenges into sharper focus.
Almost universally there has been an acceptance that operating conditions are now having to rapidly change and evolve and to survive, manufacturers must begin to operate more efficiently very quickly. This cannot be by improving the systems that may have worked previously.
In any enterprise there are many moving parts, but we are now starting to realise that the greatest asset any manufacturer needs is real-time visibility across corporate boundaries and down to the supply and demand chain. This will mean moving from siloed, largely fixed interoperation of ERPS, MES, PLM and PDM systems, to event-based digital ecosystems that interrelate data about what your customers care about - the assets - from design to use.
The age of the digital twin
There has been a lot of hype around digital twins in many sectors, but there is the need now for true digital twins as the powerful ‘digital shadows’ that are able to drive smart systems and the next generation of supply chains. These are digital twins that function as ‘white boxes’ interrelating data sources from across an asset’s entire lifecycle as its semantically defined, data-based virtualisation. They are comprehensive, interoperable versions of any business asset – people, places, processes or things – with access to all of its data and controls and structured and tagged, enabling it to be read directly by machines.
The inclusion of controls, as well as data, is integral to a twin’s ability to autonomously interoperate and leverage emergent pattern recognition and for AI to enrich customer-centric services. Their power lies not in what they can physically show us, but how they can securely and meaningfully interact with each other and, in doing so, create secure, scalable, adaptable digital ecosystems.
A digital twin can be made up of separate parts to create twins of components, assemblies, people, or an entire manufacturing plant and can be combined in multiple ways to create a unified access point or gateway to numerous sources of data and information.
This is not copying data, creating new data lakes, or rearchitecting legacy systems, but leveraging them through the creation of events and instances in a twin’s life that provide real-time insight into demand, supply, performance and operations. It is the ability for connected objects to talk to each other and work together to provide entirely new services.
What has a digital twin ever done for us?
To enable the full effect of the technology, manufacturers will need to embrace digitalisation on a far bigger scale, encompassing end-to-end processes throughout plants and across the supply chain. As organisations adopt new technologies and increase the number of endpoints, the volume of data they collect will swell hugely and more importantly, the interactions between them will grow exponentially.
Being able to manage those complex interactions at a granular level, securely and across ecosystems of partners, goes beyond traditional approaches. Investment in multiple siloed point solution apps and platforms has complicated global data estates, shackling innovation and limiting adoption, flexibility and adaptation as a result.
One-time, use-based system integrations are costly and restrictive, while data warehousing simply creates bigger siloes and fails to reflect the required co-operative, multi-party nature of service delivery. Digital twins offer a lightweight solution that deliver the digital transformation required to recover and then thrive in these challenging times.
How digital twins are being adopted and used by world leading manufacturers
Digital twins don’t replace existing technology or legacy investment, rather they extend capabilities, increase flexibility and mitigate the risk of businesses failing. Organisations such as Rolls-Royce are harnessing twin-based interoperable ecosystems to deliver the next generation in customer service: Customer Service 4.0.
Rolls-Royce business unit, Power System, is using digital twin and event data technology from Iotics to unlock over 200 data sources, brokering interactions to create digital twins of their in-field assets and receive real-time event insights across customer, supplier and partner boundaries.
Chief IT Digital Officer of Rolls-Royce Power Systems Jürgen Winterholler said, “Digital twin technology is helping us realise our vision of placing our customers at the heart of everything we do, exploiting digital twin technology to deliver the best service and to enable our customers’ businesses.”
Rolls-Royce Power Systems has a single source of truth for asset information streamline internal systems, enhancing customer service and delivering new digital solutions. Starting within its extensive rail ecosystem, it sees the transformational potential of physical products and assets having their own digital twins that securely capture, share and exchange data and controls and powering solutions that meet the new needs of the company, its customers, partners and suppliers.
“Customer Service 4.0 means seeing the world the way your customers do, collaborating with them, their customers, and our service partners, to deliver greater efficiencies, enhanced insights and new opportunities, without compromising on the quality and security they expect from Rolls-Royce Power Systems,” added Winterholler.
But it is not just manufacturing which will benefit from this brave new world. The use cases are as varied as the twins themselves and the digital twin age is the next evolution of disruption. What is the killer application or use case for the web and internet? There isn’t just one. It is not what the technology can do or what problem it solves, but what it enables us to create and co-create. Liberating us from siloed thinking and approaches enables us to focus on what matters to companies, their customers and their communities.
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First Solar to Invest US$684mn in Indian Energy Sector
First Solar is about to set up a new photovoltaic (PV) thin-film solar manufacturing facility in Tamil Nadu, India. The 3.3GW factory will create 1,000 skilled jobs and is expected to launch its operations in Q3 of 2023. According to the company, India needs 25+ gigawatts of solar energy to be deployed each year for the next nine years. This means that many of First Solar’s Indian clients will jump at the chance to have access to the company’s advanced PV.
Said Mark Widmar, First Solar’s CEO: ‘India is an attractive market for First Solar not simply because our module technology is advantageous in its hot, humid climate. It’s an inherently sustainable market, underpinned by a growing economy and appetite for energy’.
A Bit of Background
First Solar is a leading global provider of photovoltaic systems. It uses advanced technology to generate clear, reliable energy around the world. And even though it’s headquartered in the US, the company has invested in storage facilities around the world. It displaced energy requirements for a desalination plant in Australia, launched a source of reliable energy in the Middle East (Dubai, UAE), and deployed over 4.5GW of energy across Europe with its First Solar modules.
The company is also known for its solar innovation, reporting that it sees gains in efficiency three times faster than multi-crystalline silicon technology. First Solar holds world records in thin-film cell conversion efficiency (22.1%) and module conversion efficiency (18.2%). Finally, it helps its partners develop, finance, design, construct, and operate PV power plants—which is exactly what we’re talking about.
How Will The Tamil Nadu Plant Work?
Tamil Nadu will use the same manufacturing template as First Solar’s new Ohio factory. According to the Times of India, the factory will combine skilled workers, artificial intelligence, machine-to-machine communication, and IoT connectivity. In addition, its operations will adhere to First Solar’s Responsible Sourcing Solar Principles, produce modules with a 2.5x lower carbon footprint, and help India become energy-independent. Said Widmar: ‘Our advanced PV module will be made in India, for India’.
After all, we must mention that part of First Solar’s motivation in Tamil Nadu is to ensure that India doesn’t rely on Chinese solar. ‘India stands apart in the decisiveness of its response to China’s strategy of state-subsidised global dominance of the crystalline silicon supply chain’, Widmar explained. ‘That’s precisely the kind of level playing field needed for non-Chinese solar manufacturers to compete on their own merits’.
According to First Solar, India’s model should be a template for like-minded nations. Widmar added: ‘We’re pleased to support the sustainable energy ambitions of a major US ally in the Asia-Pacific region—with American-designed solar technology’. To sum up: Indian solar power is yet the next development in the China-US trade war. Let the PV manufacturing begin.