Today, many asset operators are struggling to take advantage of the digital opportunities of new technology. They see their sister lines of business in manufacturing, sales, procurement, and supply chain transforming faster.
With a historic focus on efficient operations and maintenance processes, the digital foundation for asset intelligence is missing. Operators don’t know the status or condition of their assets and cannot track changes over time as an asset is installed, maintained, updated, or re-engineered.
But operating in the digital age is transforming this and allowing companies to look at assets differently, not just as physical entities that need maintaining, but also as a digital representation that can provide the intelligence for advanced decision making and new automated processes.
The idea of a “digital twin” is not new, however companies can leverage today’s technologies to make it a reality. These include graphical 3D visualization and virtual reality, sensor-based monitoring technology, advanced analytics, networks, and geographic Information systems including satellite positioning, to name a few.
Enabling a ‘network of digital twins’
The Internet of Things (IoT) is driving the ability for real-time, sensor-based monitoring of assets. It’s not a new topic, but one that is rapidly being enabled across more of an asset portfolio and beyond just high-value, sophisticated assets. Many new assets are equipped with sensors by design and it can be cost-effective to retrofit sensors for existing assets. Also, the IoT makes it easy to connect and share those data feeds.
With advances in data handling and analytics, including approaches such as machine learning and material science simulation, real-time data feeds from equipment sensors can be used for improved and automated maintenance decisions. Importantly, not just in an engineering analysis office after the fact, but as real-time intelligence in the front office of asset operations.
If we then consider that such assets involve many different organizations across their lifecycle, networks and new approaches to collaboration can improve and even automate the creation of digital twins. We can move beyond the traditional world, where digital design/CAD data was constrained to the R&D/engineering department, and share that downstream across organizations through manufacturing, operations, and service. It can be combined with different types of digital data, such as maintenance and commercial intelligence, to create complete digital packages for an asset twin that can evolve over time.
The result is the ability to maintain a digital twin that truly reflects the physical asset. To enrich it and keep it accurate over time, to make it available across a network of stakeholders, and to make it “live” with real-time sensor feeds. Such a network of digital twins can enable winning efficiencies and new business processes.
Three benefits of digital twin networks
Assuming many organizations have already adopted low-cost maintenance processes, further benefits will increasingly require digital transformation and the ability to utilize intelligence from digital asset data. Those benefits can be considerable, in terms of automation and efficiency of operations, cost avoidance, improved service, and new revenue generation. Let’s consider three examples.
- Extending asset life: Asset life, such as for expensive assets or structures, is often predetermined using assumptions with estimates and safety margins. If we can instead base decisions on reality, on an accurate, live digital twin, we could potentially and safely extend an asset’s life. If the vibration pattern of a structure (such as blades on a wind turbine) changes, maintenance could be accelerated before undue stresses occur. With real-time structural simulation, the actual stresses caused by unexpected events (including incremental weather effects) can be used to determine stress and fatigue over time at any given point in the structure. The same can apply to many asset categories, e.g., the life of a submersible pump may depend on assumptions about corrosion or abrasion, which could be made more accurate based on intelligence about actual fluid conditions over time.
- Reducing maintenance costs: Many companies spend small fortunes maintaining assets on planned maintenance schedules. These costs can be dramatic when asset downtime is costly or assets are remote, difficult, and potentially dangerous to inspect (like submersible pumps or wind turbines). With digital twin-based intelligence of assets that are connected, companies can adopt sensor- and condition-based monitoring strategies, detecting problems as early as possible and using predictive or machine learning algorithms to anticipate failures. Maintenance can be done when it’s needed considering the criticality of the asset.
- Creating new business models: Digital twins provide opportunities for organizations across the supply chain to create new business models and generate additional revenue. A manufacturer could offer to provide its products as a service, enabling new revenue models and the ability for operators to more easily adopt new assets. Further, where assets are connected across business networks, new software applications and services can be offered, and increasingly the revenues from aftermarket operations will grow beyond just spare parts into new value-added offerings. Third parties can differentiate their businesses by offering content and maintenance services, collaborating through the network of digital twins.
Putting assets at the heart of your operations
Traditionally, operations companies focused on efficient operations, the resources needed to do a job, and supporting processes and work-order execution drove many day-to-day management tasks and decisions.
Today, digital twins enable businesses to put their assets at the heart of their operations. The asset itself determines the future, and operators with a rich digital foundation can provide the intelligence for better decisions now and in the future. Customer service is enabled by the asset, the asset is intelligent and at the heart of the operation, and with it companies can continue winning for years to come.
To learn more about the Network of Digital Twins, register to read the Infobrief by IDC.