There are many digital terms flying around the manufacturing space currently that it can be difficult to understand what they all mean and draw the lines between them. The first step to finding the highest impact manufacturing project is understanding the terms used in the sea of content surrounding the manufacturing space.
One area of continuing confusion are the unique aspects of the terms digitization, digitalization, digital twin, and digital transformation. So we set forth to provide simple, concise answers to what they mean and how they can be used in the real world to benefit manufacturers everywhere.
Digitization is the conversion of information (i.e. objects, images, sounds, documents, data, etc.) into an electronically stored digital format that is accessible through technology. We likely take part in this action daily when we scan our hardcopy document to create a PDF or transfer our handwritten notes to a digital document.
Industrial Digitization Project Examples
Perhaps the simplest of digitization activities is transfer or bypassing of paper documentation. By moving to a data into the digital realm; documents can be searched, more accurately archived, and become accessible quickly for anyone who needs them. For example, tracking the entry and exit of machine tools allows operators to monitor their wear and assure their performance. Doing this by hand can be time consuming and error prone. By Moving to a digitized logging system, we can track use for analytic purposes and provide ways to assure all the data is properly reported before continuing.
Value of digitization of the manufacturing floor goes well beyond paper as well. Hardware that operates in the digital work can enable performance simply not possible otherwise. Thus, capital equipment relying on analog drivers can be held back. Press brakes are often a strong candidate for this type of upgrade. Hydraulic power is commonplace in this type of equipment.
Information is everywhere in a manufacturing facility. It could be in the form of unharnessed information or be simply analog and not able to be targeted or controlled precisely.
In the case of the press brake; we can outfit it with electric motors with digital feedback so that we can realize more precise positioning, better process control, safety monitoring, and data feedback back to the control system. None of which would be possible with hydraulics.
For now we are only creating digital data, but we cannot continue to the terms below without first this step.
Now we get a bit more vague. Different organizations define digitalization in different ways; often depending on how it relates to their business. Definitions are also often peppered with other ambiguous terms such as “digital business” and “digital world.”
We’d like to enter our own hybrid definition of: “The action of connecting digitized information to gain insight and make decisions in order to improve or create new business processes.”
Digitalization is the next step in a process improvement sequence. First we’ve digitized our data, now we can go through a digitalization initiative to centralize and put that information to use.
Industrial Digitalization Project Examples
Size and scale of digitalization cases can vary greatly; and can come in the form of greenfield or modernization projects. In a recent duel robot cell for a tiered automotive client we were able to digitize and centralize data from various capital equipment that the robots were feeding and transferring between.
Cases can take place at the plant level as well. A large-scale coffee roaster purchased new and refitted old roasting equipment with technology that allows production data to be funneled upward via its plant network, was able to create a more effective supervisory system.
The sheer amount of knowledge and feedback that digitalized applications contain give the control system all the tools it needs to optimize the process. In the case of the duel robot cell for our automotive supplier; VMRA used our ability to speak to each machine in the system to assure safety and assure that the robots were always as close as possible to the next ready part. This allowed us to beat the initial improvement goal of a 48-second cycle a further 20% to 38-seconds. The connected devices also created single point of control that sped up changeover, troubleshooting, and normal operation times.
In the case of the coffee roaster, they found that as many as 40% of machines were offline at once, and that as many as 100 extra roasters were needed to offset the offline equipment to hold production rates steady. The company was able to then flex product types to keep equipment running longer, as well as use the system to predict downtime and monitor overall performance.
Digital Twin / Digital Shadow
Siemens defines the Digital Twin as “A virtual representation of a physical product or process, used to understand and predict the physical counterpart’s performance characteristics.”
A digital twin is created via simulation software (such as Siemens) and uses physics simulation, sensors, and analytics to model the performance of real-world systems and demonstrate how a system would behave under different design alternations, program changes, usage scenarios, or see the impact of time on operation.
Digital twin applications can be generally divided into three categories. Actual deployment could pull from one or all three categories.
Digital Twins For Products
Digital twins can be used to virtually validate how a product performs, while also showing how they are acting in the physical world. This provides a virtual-physical connection that allows for analysis against test criteria and the ability to virtually adjust so the next product revision can accommodate the demands of use. Using a digital twin in this way can remove costly prototyping, drops development time, improve overall quality of final products.
Digital Twins For Production
A production digital twin can help validate how well a manufacturing process will work on the shop floor before anything goes into production. By simulating the process using a digital twin and analyzing why things are happening using the digital thread, companies can create a production methodology that stays efficient under a variety of conditions.
Using the data from the product and production digital twins, businesses can prevent costly downtime to equipment – and even predict when preventative maintenance will be necessary. This constant stream of accurate information enables manufacturing operations that are faster, more efficient, and more reliable.
Digital Twins For Performance
The performance digital twin captures this data from products and plants in operation and analyzes it to provide actionable insight for informed decision making. By leveraging performance digital twins, companies can:
Create new business opportunities
Gain insight to improve virtual models
Capture, aggregate, and analyze operational data
Improve product and production system efficiency
Digital Transformation / Digital Industry
Still with us? Don’t worry we’ll keep this one short.
Digital transformation is yet another level up from digitalization. Digital transformation comprises of many digitalization projects that uses data from all aspects of the enterprise in order to empower each division with data from the other. The data is not bound by where it is created, rather is available for use across the organization.
A Brief Summary
We can connect the terms above by saying…
We digitize information, so that we may digitalize a process (such as creating a digital twin), so that the organization can undergo digital transformation.
The form and impact of each of the above is different for every company so it is important to source subject matter experts and create a roadmap that is custom fit for your company.