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Could your business benefit from using digital twins and digital threads?

30 January 2018 by Hege Skryseth
When thick fog engulfs Oslo Airport, Gardermoen, the pilots are not handling the landing of the aircrafts. The autopilots are. Why don't more industries use similar technologies to automate processes?

This article originally appeared in Norwegian as part of the "Lederblikk" series by Oslo Business Forum. Read the Norwegian version here.  

The interest in digital twins – and eventually also digital threads – is spreading to ever-new industries as more and more organizations decide to use digitalization to make their business more efficient and achieve financial gains. In my view, both technologies are essential aids in a business transformation.

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Yet, some organizations still hesitate to adopt these technologies. Why? The reason may be that the meanings of the terms above still aren't entirely clear to everyone. Nor are the opportunities they provide.

What are digital twins and digital threads?

A digital twin is a comprehensive model representing a particular physical object down to the smallest detail – such as physical characteristics, expected and real behavior, and data flow. The digital twin of an aircraft, for example, is so detailed that you can identify the specific aircraft it represents, including all of its unique features.

A digital thread is an unbroken chain of digital information about an object. The information is used continuously throughout the production process, from the first sketches of the object are created, until the object has been completed and put into service, and throughout its life cycle.

What are the benefits of using a digital twin?

Among other things, a digital twin can provide your business with the following advantages:
• Throughout the life cycle of a physical object, you can optimize and simulate operation, production, sustainability, and more.
• You can make changes to the digital twin and simulate the potential effect of planned modifications to the physical object.
• You can simulate the behavior of the physical object and, for example, register issues with system performance long before they occur.
• You can compare data from the digital twin to the design specifications continuously.
• You can simulate, plan and train for future operations, such as complicated maintenance.

In sum, this allows you to improve the design before an object is manufactured and put into use.

Watch how Heerema benefits from using a digital twin

What are the benefits of using a digital thread?

With a digital thread, you can access, integrate, and analyze data from different systems throughout the lifecycle of an object – across features that traditionally have been split into different silos. This means that all documentation and all data from all parts of the life cycle of the object are stored, and operators have access to it throughout the physical object's life cycle. This allows for a more efficient design and fabrication process as well as optimized performance during the use phase.

How do digital threads and digital twins transform the industries?

Many factors contribute to business transformation. New technologies rank among the most important. Today, a new product is usually developed serially and incrementally with each department working on the product in turn. With digital twins and digital threads, development can be executed continuously in a more agile manner, in different departments in parallel.

This means a development process may look like this:
• A business develops a holistic 3D model of a new product they plan on manufacturing.
• They use the 3D model and information about the physical properties of the product to simulate its behavior.
• They connect the 3D model to instructions on how to make the product.
• The 3D model is used to automatically check that the design and instructions are consistent and comply with the requirements.
• Once the product has been tested, it is manufactured.

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Digital twins and threads offer major opportunities for reducing costs and increasing efficiency

Digital twins and digital threads have already begun to gain significant importance in heavy industries such as oil and gas and renewable energy. Among other things, these industries wish to switch from periodic to condition-based maintenance. This is an area where costs potentially could be dramatically reduced, in many cases, up to 30 percent.

At the same time, we can use the same technologies to provide a safer working environment for crew members who perform maintenance on oil installations or wind turbines. With a digital twin, the crew can see exactly where critical components are located, access all relevant operational and safety data about the equipment, and practice doing the actual maintenance before they execute an assignment.

What other possibilities are there?

Most industries will be able to take advantage of digital twins and digital threads, and reduce their costs dramatically in the process. What opportunities do you see for your industry? Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas. The opportunities you see may not have occurred to others.

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About the writer
Hege Skryseth
Hege Skryseth has worked for KONGSBERG since August 2013 holding various management positions within the Group’s corporate team. She has been the President of Kongsberg Digital, and Chief Digital Officer of KONGSBERG since March 2016. Skryseth also holds broad experience from several leading international technology companies and has been a board member for various organizations including her most current participation with eSmart Systems.