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Digital Twinning: The Future of Manufacturing

The most innovative manufacturing businesses are already starting to take advantage of the new industry-transforming technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, robotics, and artificial intelligence (AI). 

'Digital twinning' has gained momentum as more manufacturers invest in smart machines that are transforming the industrial landscape. Defined as the mapping of a physical asset to a digital platform, digital twinning lets manufacturers gather data from machine sensors to find out how they are performing in real time.

Earlier this year, Gartner named digital twinning as number five in its top 10 strategic technology trends for 2017. It predicts that within three to five years, billions of things will be represented by digital twins. Another report from Research and Markets suggests that up to 85 per cent of all IoT platforms will contain some form of digital twinning capability by 2022.

Digital twins are possible for all kinds of physical products from microchips to luxury cars. Digital twins boost efficiency and productivity by letting companies monitor the construction of plants, manage assets, and test final products.

3-D Printing Continues to Gain Strong and Transformative Momentum_ Manufacturers should take digital twinning seriously because, when we start connecting IoT endpoints, devices, and physical assets to data sensing and gathering systems, the data extracted can be turned into valuable insights to optimise and automate processes.

The potential savings from digital twins are enormous, especially when it comes to prototyping. Physical prototypes tend to be built late in the process in conventional product development. Having twinned a device, a digital prototype can be used to run simulations in virtual reality that can be modified at any time through the entire production process. Manufacturers can reduce development time and costs, and predict failure scenarios and potential downtime for improved efficiency.

Manufacturers can also use software to collect data directly from equipment and operators in real time. Manufacturing execution systems (MES) let the business act to improve performance. These systems can be linked with enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions to connect the entire business to the manufacturing process.

Using wearable technology such as smart glasses, manufacturing engineers can visualise data relating to a specific product or task. For example, a maintenance team can access an augmented reality (AR) view of hidden systems and link to real-time information about the object. AR helps drive operational efficiency by reducing production downtime, identifying problems quickly, and keeping processes moving.

Technology offers manufacturers a chance to be ahead of their machinery and anticipate and prepare for costly downtime. Those who realise the value in investing in digital twinning now will be able to work smarter and harder in the future, however, those who are unwilling to commit to investment are at risk of falling behind more efficiency driven competitors.

With so many benefits for manufacturers, it is clear that digital twinning is here to stay. The potential for digital twinning to positively impact business outcomes are almost endless.

By bridging the gap between the physical and digital world, the future of manufacturing is already here.

Posted by Terri Hiskey, Vice President Product Marketing, Manufacturing at Epicor Software

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