How Digital Twins and Digital Threads are Transforming Global Manufacturing

Applying digital twins, digital threads, and other innovative technologies increases competition between major manufacturers worldwide. Today, most of the global digital twin market, including technology companies, is in the manufacturing sector, accelerating the adoption of these crucial risk management tools. 

The Differences Between Digital Twins and Digital Threads 

The principal difference between digital twins and digital threads is that digital twins produce virtual replicas of physical processes, with their scope focused on manufacturing data. In contrast, digital threads use data over a product’s lifecycle to optimize product quality, production efficiency, and other key performance indicators (KPIs). 

Digital twins are virtual replicas of bills of materials (BOMs), physical objects, system architectures, processes, and environments that resemble real-world counterparts. They use data to replicate physical processes, allowing users to predict performance issues and outcomes that span the object’s lifecycle. 

Manufacturers update their digital twins from real-time data and make decisions using simulation and machine learning. The twins are simulations and analyses ranging from one-dimensional to complex multi-dimensional ones. They can be applied across various engineering and design domains, including structures, fluids, signal integrity, etc.

Digital twins use data to replicate processes that allow users to predict a product’s performance and outcomes. These processes consist of definitions, documentation, and simulations that detail the form, fit, and function of all aspects of the product. This includes every system, assembly, and item in a product. The same holds for the digital twin of a manufacturing plant, which spans every cell, operation, line, system, and facility.

Digital threads are quantifiable metrics that measure performance over time to achieve specific goals. KPIs help organizations evaluate their success in reaching targets and provide insights to help people make better decisions. 

Twins and Threads in Global Manufacturing 

Digital threads complement digital twins. They include information about a product’s performance and use from design to production, sale, use, and disposal or recycling. They provide insights into how customers use products, how those products perform, how they can be improved, and what new features customers might require. 

Threads provide a road map through the life stages of the product, from the drawing board to the physical product, and how it performs and can be improved.

The exact definitions of the digital twin and digital thread hold for entire manufacturing plants encompass everything in the production process: every cell, line, assembly, system, and even the entire facility. 

Twins and threads use data to replicate processes that allow users to predict product performance issues and outcomes. They detail the form, fit, and function of all aspects of a product that spans every cell, operation, line, system, and even the entire facility. 

Manufacturers use digital twins and threads to create virtual equipment replicas that monitor production lines and other processes to improve manufacturing efficiency. Digital twins track key performance indicators and environmental conditions such as temperature, pressure, and speed. The data enables companies to quickly detect and monitor any anomalies on the production line that might indicate a possible issue or defect. 

The pace of manufacturers adopting digital twins and digital threads is accelerating. Going virtual means they can evaluate data, increase efficiency, and optimize operations. By creating digital replicas of industrial processes, they can quickly assess the data, analyze performance trends, and optimize operations before they become costly breakdowns. The rapid response capability reduces downtime and improves product reliability. 

Digital twins in manufacturing also provide predictive maintenance guidance for equipment and identify potential problems before they become costly breakdowns. They are reducing downtime and improving product reliability.

It is essential to understand that digital twins are composite representations. No definition, documentation, or simulation alone can describe the product. Only when these aspects are understood collectively can the organization fully grasp the product’s and plant’s form, fit, and function.

Digital threads are discrete, linked, traceable sequences of activities in the digitized and automated product and production lifecycle. They range in scope and navigate fast and flexibly. Some are executed in engineering, while others run only in manufacturing. Still others span engineering and manufacturing. 

Likewise, some focus exclusively on the product, some are exclusive to the plant, and others span both. Still others connect products in operations and services, specifically in product development.

How Three Manufacturing Leaders Apply Digital Twins

General Electric (GE) monitors and predicts performance and maintenance needs using digital twins. The company does this across its aviation, energy, and healthcare sectors. The aviation division creates digital twins of jet engineers to reduce downtime and operational costs. GE also leverages digital twins to manage electrical grids by connecting design data with real-time operational data to ensure stable and efficient grid operations. 

Siemens is a pioneer in digital twin technology by applying it across a product’s lifecycle management to enable continuous production process optimization. The company provides comprehensive solutions that allow companies to build digital threads across all stages of production, from ideation to design, planning, engineering, sourcing, procurement, and beyond. Siemens solutions apply to various industries, including automotive, aerospace, and other electronics manufacturing verticals. 

Foxconn uses digital twin technology to enhance its manufacturing process. To drive smart manufacturing, the company applies digital thread technology to create a cohesive manufacturing ecosystem, including cloud computing, IoT, big data, and AI technology.

 By connecting these technologies through digital threads, the enterprise can better manage and optimize its global supply chain while improving product quality and time to market. 

Driving Transformation by Shifting Left 

Risk management is essential for companies to safeguard themselves from financial threats and losses that could harm their reputations, harm employees, and lead to the discontinuation of business operations.

There are many reasons why risk management is becoming more critical. At the top of the list is the rapid increase in product complexity due to the accelerating pace of adopting advanced technologies, such as digital technologies, for producing autonomous vehicles. 

Most engineering and manufacturing teams accept that they need to improve the development of their products and plants. Both are pivoting toward innovative, connected features that will replace traditional product development approaches over time. A shift left focus can reduce up to 80% of the product’s lifetime risk, according to Supplyframe.

Such a digital transformation relies heavily on digital tools to improve performance, primarily in plant and product development. Digital transformation efforts typically fall into one of two categories.

One class of digital transformation focuses on switching to a comprehensive digital twin from disparate, siloed representations of products and plants. Another class focuses on shifting manual activities and processes that rely on hardcopy and electronic artifacts and more sophisticated automated digital threads.

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