Digital twins help optimize a machine's value-added processes and ensure smooth operation from start to finish. We sat down with Beate Freyer, managing director of the simulation company machineering, to take a closer look at how digital twins are used during everyday operation.

What can digital twins contribute to the everyday operation of a machine?

Beate Freyer: With a digital twin in your control cabinet, you've always got access to a real-time model of your running equipment. Any adjustments or optimizations you might be considering can be implemented quickly and safely. You can try out your planned changes on the digital twin in advance. Only once you've settled on the right solution is everything transferred to the physical system. That saves not only time, but also the cost of performing those steps on the machine itself.

What's it like for a machine operator working with a digital twin? What information do they get?

Freyer: The digital twin provides all the data you need in order to keep a machine running smoothly at all times. As an operator, you can easily run through all your machine processes and calculate complex geometric models. You can test them all virtually and then transfer them to the real machine. And that means you don't have to worry about any unpleasant surprises. Not only that, but you can even look forward in time and see any potential collisions so you can take action in time to avoid them.

"The digital twin provides all the data you need to keep a machine running smoothly at all times," says Beate Freyer, managing director of machineering.

And how does the digital twin end up in the control cabinet?

Freyer: With our solution, the machine operator receives what we call a Digital Twin Box along with their new machine. That box contains all the relevant data for the machine. As soon as the real line is up and running, so is its digital twin – a virtual copy of what's happening on the plant floor in real time, fed by live operating data. So you can integrate it into any standard manufacturing system.

So is a digital twin always just for an individual machine, or are there benefits for an entire plant as well?

Freyer: Oh certainly. For plants with multiple interconnected lines, you can use data from machines and processes to create a process image for analysis. To make this possible, status data is exchanged between the real machines and their digital twins constantly during operation. The operator gets a bird's eye view of their production processes and can compare key parameters of the virtual plant against those of the real one. For example, they can fast-forward through process steps or make forecasts about material wear and downtime. Buffer times, stock levels and machine utilization levels can also be viewed and optimized in real time.

The digital twin

Digital twins are based on simulation models that have been assigned all the characteristics and functions of the real machine – from the physical properties of the materials used to the machine's sensors as well as all the movements and dynamic properties of the actual machine. Inefficiencies and malfunctions can be identified and corrected early to optimize machine availability and performance. Read more about the benefits of simulation.

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