The concept of a digital twin—an operational replica that can be used for testing, commissioning, and training—is beginning to gain acceptance among machine builders, OEMs, and end-users. The challenge now, according to Fran Wlodarczyk, senior VP for architecture and software at Rockwell Automation, is to simplify the digital twin integration at every step along the design process.
“We’re providing the technology to OEM, and it plugs in,” said Wlodarczyk at Rockwell’s annual Automation Fair Nov. 19 in Chicago. “It’s what you get when you have an open platform. You want it to connect easily to other technologies. If you make it simple and make it easy to use, people are more open to use it.”
That includes at Rockwell Automation, where the company is not just an industry supplier, but also a global manufacturing company. Wlodarczyk noted the digital twin has become a key part of Rockwell’s maintenance strategy.
“Unplanned downtime is the No. 1 use case,” said Wlodarczyk. “We do a lot of electronic circuit boards, and we have a suction cup that moves the chips to the circuit board. We can test to see how long that suction cup will work at an optimum level so we can ensure the chips are properly installed. We can measure the remaining useful life.
“We’re a world-class manufacturer and we run our plants on information software,” he added. “Not only can we advise, we can deliver.”
Wlodarczyk cited five ways the digital twin is being used by OEMs and machine builders in design and operations:
- Virtual design/machine prototyping: Testing if the machine as designed can handle the load.
- Virtual commissioning: Testing the automation systems.
- Training: The ability to simulate operator conditions and see how operators react. This can include the use of virtual reality and augmented reality.
- Optimization: Once operational, testing how to make the machine run better and increase throughput.
- Predictive maintenance: Evaluating the operation in real time and preventing unplanned downtime.
Wlodarczyk said improvements in software, processing speed, and modeling are accelerating growth in the digital manufacturing space, although the adoption does lag behind some expectations. There are a couple of additional considerations that are helping to tip the scales.
“There’s a big play with safety and digital twin,” Wlodarczyk said. “You can test if the worker can see the safety warning. And augmented reality is helping train workers on work instructions.”