The digital twin is everywhere. It brings benefits to designing houses or operating trams and it helps to develop and operate machine tools. You want to know more about that? Then you might enjoy reading this article!
When I started work at Siemens, I was soon confronted with the term “digital twin”. I began to research this – on Siemens web pages, on the Internet and on this blog. The longer I spent researching, the more impressed I was with the ideas behind the digital twin. Creating a detailed virtual representation of e.g. a machine tool seemed to me almost as if science fiction were becoming reality.
You are probably wondering why I, a relative newbie, have ended up writing an article for you about the digital twin. After talking to many people about this topic and filling up numerous notebook pages, I began to consider whether my research could also benefit other readers. I pulled together all my knowledge in the form of a blog post, and here it is! But enough about me – let’s get back to the digital twin.
Digital and original – the digital twin and the machine tool
A digital twin is – as the name suggests – the digital representation of a physical object or process. A wide range of objects and processes can have digital twins, for example trams or busses, buildings or machine tools. Perhaps you are now thinking: I want to build a machine tool. Why go through the trouble of creating a digital twin in addition to the actual machine tool?
In short: the digital twin helps to optimize various processes during the engineering and operation of the machine – saving time, resources and money.
The requirements of both machine manufacturers and machine users shape the machine tool industry. And the digital twin offers considerable value for both users and manufacturers. Instead of processing each step one at a time, with the digital twin many processes can be executed in parallel. To be more specific I would like to describe a few situations where the digital twin brings benefits.
The digital twin in engineering
Machine tool manufacturers can use the digital twin to start engineering before the actual prototype machine is available. This is a huge benefit in terms of time savings. And the knowledge gained using the digital twin in virtual engineering can be fed back into the mechanical design. As a result, investment in expensive real prototypes of the machine tool can be reduced significantly or sometimes even eliminated entirely. Which – as I already mentioned – saves time, money and resources.
The digital twin in the showroom
As a digital representation of a machine, a digital twin can of course also be a great addition to the showroom or even move the showroom completely to the virtual world. Many machine operators would like to see a demonstration of their ideal machine before buying it. This can be a problem for machine manufacturers. Many specialist machines are one-off items or at least offered with a wide range of variants. Often demonstrations are not possible. The digital twin of the machine in a “virtual showroom” can support the machine manufacturer when concluding the contract. A consultation using a digital twin can also help to make sure that the operator’s wishes are implemented effectively without any misunderstandings.
The digital twin during machine approval
The next step after the consultation and engineering finally is the machine approval. Many machine tools are developed, at least in part, to meet the operator’s wishes. Despite the most detailed agreements in advance, there is always the risk that the actual solutions are not exactly what the operator had in mind. Usually this doesn´t come to light until it is time for the machine approval at the installation site. A preliminary acceptance of the machine based on a digital twin is therefore an ideal solution that minimizes financial risk for the machine manufacturer. And of course, the on-time handover of the machine benefits the operator, above all if the manufacture of workpieces on the new machine is linked to concrete delivery dates.
The digital twin and chips
You are probably asking: But Thomas! What about the digital twin during operation? That is indeed a good question! A machine tool is most productive when it is producing chips. Wherever possible, tasks that lead to unproductive periods should be completed during the CNC production planning. Once again, a digital twin is an ideal tool: it can be used to determine whether components can be manufactured without stopping the machine. CNC programs can be checked in advance for possible collisions between the tool and the clamping device or parts of the machine. CNC programs for new production orders can be run in “offline”, while the machine is still at work. And last but not least, new operating personnel can be trained without blocking the machine.
You see, there are a great many reasons why it is worth creating a digital twin in addition to the machine tool. It provides the ideal basis for adding value as a machine manufacturer – both in engineering and during operation. And it is everything but science fiction.