Digital twin. Depict today. Control tomorrow.

A guest article about the digital twin by Mathias Stach, Managing Director ASCon Systems GmbH

Why the digital twin is an absolute must for the factory without light and why fully automated production will increase rapidly in the coming years. A guest article by Mathias Stach, Managing Director of ASCon Systems GmbH.

The factory without light is a synonym for autonomous or fully automated production. Fully automated production does not work without the digital twin. We are observing that both global players and medium-sized companies are increasingly looking into the possibility of fully automated production. The degree of automation in industry is generally increasing and to this extent companies need digital monitoring and control options. In the case of digital monitoring we speak of a digital shadow, and only in the case of digital control we speak of a digital twin. For us at ASCon Systems, the digital twin is only a real twin, if it virtually represents both the digital planning process and the real production or logistics process with all the systems, tools, conveyor technology, actuators and sensors involved. Above all, however, it must map the semantic context, which means that the digital twin must know the behaviour of the plant and the interdependencies of the components to each other.

Maturity and trust as important hurdles

Fully automated production is the current top topic and the share of fully automated production will increase rapidly in the coming years. We are currently experiencing different speeds of how quickly companies are implementing such a thing. And this depends on the one hand on the technological maturity level and on the other hand on the history of the companies. Autonomous manufacturing implies drastic changes in manufacturing processes and IT. Because the way companies are positioned in production today, they are drawing on the know-how and processes of recent decades – and usually very successfully. The degree of organizational maturity plays a major role in this context. Companies must therefore ask themselves whether they are prepared to allow changes and redistribute responsibilities.

Germany and Europe are taking the first steps towards fully automated production. In other countries the situation is already different. If we look at China, for example: there are no companies with a 100-year tradition. Production there is being completely restructured from the very beginning, without having to fight a history. The vision of a deserted factory is rather difficult to implement in Europe. We have a different picture here of how production has to be carried out and what role mankind should play in it. It can be assumed that there will be increasing human-machine collaboration, and this is exactly what the digital twin can do very well.

From shadow to twin

If there are currently still predominantly requests for a digital shadow, for example to keep the health of a plant or maintenance technology and availability at the highest possible level, we assume that this will increasingly develop in the direction of digital twins. Digital Twin means nothing more than a modelled representation of the processes in a factory with all system-relevant dependencies. This enables the planning, control and analysis of production in real time. The production process is thus mapped and controlled comprehensively, completely and adaptable at any time, the modelled value-added chains are executed directly, operating resources can be exchanged without changes in the control logic.

Digital control will increasingly come to the fore. And this applies equally to corporations and medium-sized companies. After all, the cost pressure is much higher for medium-sized companies in particular than for a large corporation. Many medium-sized companies are currently looking at what projects are underway in the industry and what results are being achieved. It can be assumed that the time will come when medium-sized companies will push ahead with the implementation of the digital twin much faster, because much shorter decision making processes can be found there.

Efficiency plays an increasingly important role in this. Because efficiency in this context means above all flexibility. The trend in the manufacturing industry is moving more and more in the direction of greater individualization of products, which makes it necessary to manufacture in smaller batch sizes. Modular manufacturing is the new keyword and this is exactly where companies need a consistent digitization of their manufacturing and logistics processes, which is made possible by the digital twin.

Not an off-the-peg twin

However, the off-the-peg digital twin does not exist. Nevertheless, we claim to offer a standard, so that only the last ten percent have to be individually adapted. This is because industrial production processes, whether in Europe, Asia or the USA, are largely standardized so that individual production-related deviations can be configured.


Digital twin becomes the standard

Many companies are currently waiting. We are observing that production and logistics companies are currently strongly driven to implement data-optimized process flows in order to survive in the market. This is not about taking away a technological hype, but about achieving a sustainable competitive advantage. The digital twin will increasingly become the standard. The most important question in this context is when the German industry will make its nationwide entry. I think it is risky to wait and see because considerable innovation and savings potential is not being exploited.



Source: Ingenics Magazine, Ausgabe 03/2020
Autor: Mathias Stach