Who benefits from my factory model as a Digital Twin?

Illustration Digital Twin effective use in factory planning

The term ‘digital twin’ is more often and often to be found in the ocean of terms and anglicisms in the field of planning and operation of factories. But which meaning has this term and which effects has this topic on your own enterprise? And what does it have to do with the benefits of a factory model for others?

Although the term ‘digital twin’ is relatively new and increasingly often used, the topic that stands behind it is already very old. New opportunities that were still inconceivable a few years ago present themselves only thanks to the rapid development of the computer technology.

Both in the past and today, factory models are used to be able to represent an abstract or a reduced image of the reality or fact. The reason is or was often that the reality or the fact was too complex as to be able to map, understand or explain it exactly and completely. With the progressing development of technology, however, the level of abstraction of a factory model can be reduced to a minimum. If the level of abstraction approximates zero, the term ‘digital twin’ comes into play.

Objective of a factory model or digital twin

No matter whether we are talking about a factory model or about a digital twin – the most important thing are the objectives standing behind the creation of factory model or digital twin. These objectives can basically be summarized by way of the following three points:

  • Growth of understanding
  • Planning certainty, and
  • Communication support

Growth of understanding is aimed, in particular at the ability to comprehend correlations and states. In this context, questions such as “Why is the lead time so long?” or “Why is the capacity utilization of our machines so low?” are discussed.

Planning certainty is especially important for the preview of scenarios. You want to know what will or is to happen under certain conditions. In other words: Which size of storage area will I need when duplicating my production, or which transport efforts will I have to make to relocate a production line.

Communication support serves preferably to make something comprehensible. This is especially important if something is unknown or differences in the understanding exist due to different qualifications, knowledge or experience in the field.

The factory models and digital twins developed to date

Which factory models and digital twins are currently in use in enterprises?

As far as factory models are concerned, there are certainly many. Each of these factory models, however, maps different aspects of the reality or of a fact, and this, in addition, with different levels of abstraction. I would only like to mention two factory models as examples.

A typical factory model is the ERP system (enterprise resource planning). It serves mainly for planning and controlling the processes in the enterprise. As a rule, it is very up to date since there is a strong dependency on the business processes. However, it does not cover all aspects of an enterprise and is also only an abstract image of the reality.

The second typical factory model is the factory layout. It maps the spatial structure of an enterprise. Since changes in the layout are performed rather sporadically, and allegedly no direct coupling to the business processes exists, up-to-dateness is not provided in most cases. Furthermore, if mapping is only performed in 2D, only a very abstract and simplified image of the reality results. 

2D layout of a factory with additional information about transport and material flow
Example of 2D layout of a factory with additional information on material flow

In view of the fact that a few of the current factory models display a very high level of abstraction, the existence of a digital twin is excluded. The objective could rather be to supply the existing factory models with up-to-date parameters and information and to network them next to each other to be able to come closer to the final goal ‘digital twin’.

Why all these efforts? 

Whereas the extension of a factory model towards a digital twin, on the one hand, is very expensive and requires much work, the resulting benefit, on the other hand, is very high.

A good example are crash tests for vehicles. In the past, they were performed exclusively with real vehicles. This was very costly and required a lot of work. Today, digital models – you could almost say ‘digital twins’ – are used for the crash tests in many cases. This saves much time and many resources. And you should also take into account that you can perform many more tests and will gain more knowledge which, in turn, results in a better product. 

This will also apply to the factories and enterprises of the future, and with the goal ‘digital twin’ in mind, the goal is clear.

One factory model – multiple benefit

Unfortunately, the benefit of the factory layout model is considered to be too low. It often lies in the hands and within the responsibility of only a few employees. And often only data and information to which currently most attention is devoted are entered and updated in the database. It is too often not known who draws information from the factory layout and who needs the factory layout for planning and who needs it for agreement with others. And exactly at this point, the objectives of a factory model or digital twin come into play. The following points are examples for the benefits of other people from a factory model:

Growth of understanding

  • Layout plan for performing measurements which is to be submitted to the foreman or headman
  • Information for the employees
  • Escape and rescue routes for the employees, authorities, and for the fire department
  • Layout diagram and building plan for visitors

Planning certainty

  • Layout structure for the factory planners
  • Transport efforts for the logistics specialists
  • Area key figures for the industrial engineers
  • Traffic density for occupational safety and health
  • Connection and consumption data for the building service planners

Communication support

  • Agreement on equipment deliveries with the suppliers
  • Data exchange with architects and construction planners
  • Decision template for superiors or investors
  • Equipment list for the facility manager

The more detailed, but also more comprehensible the factory layout becomes as the factory model, the closer comes it to the digital twin and the more persons can benefit from it, which then flows back into their work and their enterprises as profit.

3D layout factory as Digital Twin
Example of detailed layout of a factory in terms of Digital Twin
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Dr. Uwe Günther
Dr. Uwe Günther

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