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ASCM Insights

Manufacturing’s Other Dimension — Digital Twins

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Last week, Netflix released the second season of its popular sci-fi series “Stranger Things,” which explores mysteries related to scientific experiments, supernatural forces and a parallel dimension. Netflix isn’t the only media outlet interested in other worlds. Earlier this week, Crain’s Detroit Business offered its own description of a “digital twin” in its article “Through the Virtual Looking Glass.”    

Digital twins aren’t science fiction, however. Manufacturers use them now as virtual plants running on computer systems in conjunction with physical plants. “The digital twin is identical to the physical plant and is used to design products, test them, simulate production and program the machines that actually make them,” Dustin Walsh writes. “The complex web of components in the factory are connected to a cloud-based system that receives and processes the monitored data. That data is then analyzed against business and other circumstantial data to help companies make the most informed decision possible.”   

The Deloitte report “Industry 4.0 and the Digital Twin: Manufacturing Meets its Match” provides another definition: “An evolving digital profile of the historical and current behavior of a physical object or process that helps optimize business performance.”   

According to Deloitte, there are significant benefits organizations can realize when they employ digital twin technology, including   

  • speed to market with a new product
  • improved operations
  • defect reduction
  • emerging business models to drive revenue.

In his Crain’s Detroit Business article, Walsh highlights Dassault Systemes, a company that provides businesses with these virtual universes to transform the way products are designed, produced and supported. In a test simulation, the system demonstrates how it provides real-time plant updates, including available capacity and production volumes. The system can sense interrupted output and recommend shifting production to another plant, enabling the shipment to get to the customer on time.  

“This sort of assessment, which can lead to a very expensive line shutdown at a customer’s plant, usually takes days,” Walsh writes. “With the digital twin system, it takes minutes.”   

Sounds great, right? But applying digital twins throughout your manufacturing can be overwhelming. Deloitte recommends a staggered approach to implementation: “The key could be to start in one area, deliver value there, and continue to develop.”   

Crain’s Detroit Business quotes Bob Jones, executive vice president of Siemens PLM software business, who suggests that most automakers already use digital twin systems, and the technology is spreading throughout the supply chain. He predicts that digital twins will be commonplace around the world in no more than five years.   

Underscoring your knowledge and potential  

Deloitte’s “Industry 4.0 and the Digital Twin” explains that “digital twins are designed to model complicated assets or processes that interact in many ways with their environments for which it is difficult to predict outcomes over an entire product life cycle.”   

To understand the potential of this technology, first consider the third definition of product life cycle as it appears in the APICS Dictionary: “The period of time during which a product can be produced and marketed profitably.”  

The adoption of artificial intelligence, the internet of things and digital twins aren’t science fiction; therefore, supply chain professionals need to realize how these advances can contribute significantly to enterprise profitability. Earning the APICS Certified in Production and Inventory Management (CPIM) can help you make these important connections. The CPIM is the premier certification for internal supply chain business operations, and we are excited to offer this certification in a new, streamlined format with only two exams required. To find out more about how you can earn your CPIM and prepare for the future, visit apics.org/cpim.  

About the Author

Abe Eshkenazi, CSCP, CPA, CAE CEO, ASCM

Abe Eshkenazi is chief executive officer of the Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM), the largest organization for supply chain and the global pacesetter of organizational transformation, talent development and supply chain innovation. During his tenure, ASCM has significantly expanded its services to corporations, individuals and communities. Its revenue has more than doubled, and the association successfully completed three mergers in response to both heightened industry awareness and the vast and ongoing global impact driven by supply chains. Previously, Eshkenazi was the managing director of the Operations Consulting Group of American Express Tax and Business Services. He may be contacted through ascm.org.

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