Mar 28, 2024

Data-Driven Manufacturing: The Power of Digital Shadows in the Manufacturing Industry

Industry 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution, smart factories, and the factory of the future are terms that revolve around related developments; manufacturing and production facilities are entering a new, automated, and more intelligent era. One in which “you can run your factory like a data center.” What role do digital shadows play?

Digital Shadow

Industry 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution, smart factories, and the factory of the future are terms that revolve around related developments; manufacturing and production facilities are entering a new, automated, and more intelligent era. One in which “you can run your factory like a data center.” (Jens Müller, CEO Ascon Systems Holding GmbH).

Introduced about 12 years ago, the term Industry 4.0 marked a pivotal moment for manufacturing companies, ushering in connectivity, data utilization, and AI in the industrial landscape. Despite significant progress, the journey towards full digitalization and automation of manufacturing processes continues. Particularly in leveraging data for decision-making, there's substantial ground to cover. Presently, decisions often rely on limited or outdated information, hindering efficiency and productivity. Most manufacturing operations adhere to the rigid hierarchy of the automation pyramid (ISA 95), with minimal or no data exchange between levels. The disjointed IT and OT infrastructures worsen this, leading to the loss of valuable data and slowing down or even hindering innovation. The loss or non-usage of data leads to an ever-increasing number of problems, costs and pressure from the competition.

Predictive maintenance, one of the most crucial applications of stored and analyzed manufacturing data, remains largely unrealized due to the lack of contextualized data, resulting in costly downtime and equipment failures. Another outcome of missing data transparency and the resulting inflexible production is a slow response time to market shifts, such as crises or a volatile global economy. To thrive, manufacturers must prioritize flexibility and adaptability in production planning to stay ahead of the competition amidst dynamic market conditions.

But how is a data driven production facility possible? What is the basis for a digital manufacturing industry? 

The answer is: Data. Data is being produced by sensors, machinery or other production equipment that can be collected and processed. With the digital shadow technology, this is no longer a future vision. A digital shadow consists of collected, stored, and contextualized data. This can be any data a machine generates when in operation such as sensor readings, production information, faults, temperature, and energy consumption. It even tracks a customer’s online purchases (which products they bought, search terms they used, and more). Digital shadows collect and process all this data. It’s not to be confused with a digital twin, which uses the stored and contextualized data in the shadow for automation, orchestration, and creating a virtual representation of a machine or manufacturing facility. 

Why should you dive into the (digital) shadow world?

Because it brings overwhelming benefits. Here are the top four reasons: 

  1. Data transparency at its best 

A complete collection of product and production data gives full visibility into the production facilities. Documentation and traceability are significantly simplified to comply with legal regulations. High-quality contextualized and homogenized data makes it easy to monitor tasks, conditions, and processes or facilitate better, or even AI-based, decision-making. 

2. Minimize downtime to increase productivity  

Real-time data collection and monitoring helps detecting issues early to better plan for and schedule maintenance, enhancing machine availability and productivity. A quicker and more flexible response to unforeseen events is the result. 

3. Enhanced product quality makes everyone happy  

Real-time monitoring identifies faulty products and deviations, enabling swift corrective measures and improving overall product quality. Data is available in just a few milliseconds, thanks to high-performance data collection and processing, fostering (automated) reaction to quality drops.   

4. Lower operation costs are the grand prize 

Optimized processes, reduced downtime, and improved efficiency lower the operating costs and consequently boost profitability. But also, overall performance, better product quality and a more flexible and resilient production are a benefit. 

How can a digital shadow be used? 

A digital shadow provides a foundation of data for a multitude of applications, data processing tools, and, ultimately, data-driven decision making. 

One of the first and probably most logical use cases is monitoring your machine park. You can create a digital shadow to monitor the real-time health and performance of the equipment on your shopfloor. Data, such as signals, error messages, and sensor readings including temperature, vibration, or energy consumption are collected and available in near real-time as a digital replica. This reflection of live data allows remote insights into machinery and processes. 

Once your facility is data-driven and digitally shadowed, you can further use this data to optimize production processes. This can involve identifying and optimizing bottlenecks, such as variations in performance caused by wear and tear or suboptimal material flow and enhancing overall production performance.  

Furthermore, sensor data can be analyzed to detect issues early and avoid malfunctions or unplanned downtime. By utilizing historical data together with predictive analytics, predictive maintenance lets you detect patterns that indicate deteriorating machine conditions. The collected data lets you act as soon as it is needed instead of operating according to strictly planned intervals. Imagine having a fixed maintenance schedule, but the machine breaks down a week before it is scheduled for repairs. Or you take equipment offline only to discover that no work is necessary. The costs of a machine downtime and potential production line stoppages can be immense. 

Another area where digital shadows play a big role is real-time product quality monitoring. This allows you to analyze collected data and integrate it using AI, which aids proactive detection, prevention, and continuous improvement of product quality within your manufacturing processes. Not only can you take corrective measures in a timely manner and improve quality, but you can also enhance your documentation and traceability for individually defined critical components.  

Finally, digital shadows actively contribute to a more agile, resilient, and efficient supply chain. Real-time tracking of products and materials, enhanced visibility, planning and controlling capabilities, predictive analytics, and data-driven decision-making ensure a swift response to new schedules or unforeseen events. The political turbulence and pandemic we experienced in recent years have shown how crucial it is to be able to fully understand and correctly transform  your production value chain. This begins with a clear and full data-driven picture of all your machinery. 

Artificial intelligence (AI) today is already able to analyze and evaluate the stored and contextualized data as well as the resulting machine states. These AI algorithms make use of pattern recognition to generate value out of vast quantities of data.  

The Digital Shadow’s role inside the Ascon Qube 

Let’s now take a look at Ascon Qube. Ascon Qube is an edge-to-cloud platform that lets you plan, monitor, control, and optimize automated production processes. All production data streams seamlessly integrate into a digital shadow, forming a foundation for all the capabilities of the Qube. The possibility to model and orchestrate processes and to actively steer your production remotely make this technology unique, even with the most heterogeneous infrastructures. Siloed legacy systems can no longer bar the door to the factory of the future, since Ascon's solution is hardware-agnostic and operates without impacting the IT and OT performance. 

The contextualized data reflected by the shadow also enables live-synced digital twins that provide full visibility. Now you can control production from a graphical user interface (GUI) and perform low-code adjustments to processes and models, reducing dependence on experts and bridging the talent gap. Analytics capabilities generate valuable insights and enable central optimization. This is how the digital shadow turns manufacturing data into the agility you need to combat disruption and keep ahead of global change.  

Want to know more?  

Ascon Digital Shadow

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