As digital transformation (DX) hits a fever pitch, and product complexity reigns, many manufacturers are using "digital twins" of their products to optimize product quality and improve the customer experience. Digital twins, a term coined by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) many years ago and discussed frequently by PLM and IoT (Internet of things) vendors, are (in short) rich, multi-layered, virtual product models. At their most base level, digital twins use CAE (simulation software) to create a full digital model of a product and its associated manufacturing processes.
Why are digital twins so important to manufacturers today? Because they provide a way to model and manage the complexity inherent to many products today. These products have an increasing amount of embedded software and hence cognitive capability within them, are customized and configured often, and require complex manufacturing processes, supply chains, and extended value chains to design, develop, produce, introduce, and service. Virtually modeling a product to such depth helps companies avoid costly product quality issues or manufacturing rework because performance and process impacts and errors can be modeled before they occur.
Digital twins essentially help manufacturers make products right, the first time. They also enable flexibility and speed: digital versions of products can be shared with the global product development team, and configured quickly to meet unique, local needs in new markets. Digital twins of products live on after product launch as well, thanks to the IoT: the software and sensors that exist in products today provide manufacturers the ability to track performance and usage, and with predictive analytics software, optimize over time. I like PTC's vision of this with its connected/augmented reality mountain bike example.
Product digital twins could also be extended beyond engineering, R&D, and manufacturing, inclusive of business strategy and planning, costing, supply chain planning, service planning, and logistics — where different planning, cost, service, and delivery scenarios could be modeled and prescribed. The digital twin concept could include facility information such as manufacturing plant floor layout and energy efficiency. Perhaps one of the most compelling aspects of applying simulation so broadly like this to create a rich, digital twin is that this potentially accelerates sustainable, customer-driven innovation and improves sales by enabling lifelike renderings of products that customers can interact with.
DX is the catalyst for next generation product innovation and lifecycle management. It's why manufacturers are able to realistically consider creating product innovation platforms to connect their global development team. Digital twins are the communication vehicles across these platforms that ensure products are of the utmost quality and the customer experience with that product is optimal.
In the coming year, I'll be writing more about DX, the digital twin, and their impact on product and facility optimization. In the meantime, as always, I welcome your thoughts at jhojloidc.com.