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Real Benefits from Digital Twins

APICS CEO

Friday September 21, 2018


An unexpected equipment breakdown could result in costly interruptions for your company’s production. Although some equipment failures are harder to prevent, others can be avoided through preventative maintenance. However, sometimes it is challenging to find the opportune time to conduct preventative maintenance without interrupting production — albeit for a shorter amount of time than a breakdown would. The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted another option. The evolution and convergence of sensors, cloud services, big data and machine learning are enabling predictive maintenance — which helps determine when maintenance is needed — through the use of digital twins.

According to article author Sara Castellanos, digital twins are software models of sensor-enabled equipment that are designed to monitor equipment performance and prevent costly unplanned equipment breakdowns. These models also can gather and analyze data about equipment efficiency and even calculate the long-term maintenance costs and potential profit associated with operating a piece of equipment for a few more hours a day.

The concept of digital twins still is relatively new. Gartner’s latest “Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies” report categorizes it as midway between discovery and adoption. The research and advisory company predicts that at least half of manufacturers with annual revenues greater than $5 billion will have at least one digital twin initiative for either products or assets by 2020. The concept should reach widespread adoption within the next five or 10 years, the Gartner report estimates.

General Electric Co. was an early adopter of this technology. Today, the company has more than 1.2 million digital twins of physical assets, up from 660,000 at the end of 2016.

Chevron Corp. is anticipating huge savings from its investment in digital twins. The company is using the technology to predict maintenance problems in its oil fields and refineries and aims to have sensors connected to most of its high-value equipment by 2024. Chief Information Officer Bill Braun expects that preventing the breakdowns of its most crucial equipment could save the company millions of dollars each year.

Ultimately, Elizbeth Hackenson, chief information officer at Schneider Electric SE, expects that the technology will be widespread across a variety of industries, including manufacturing, food and beverage, and health care. Digital twins software could be used to create a virtual model of all of the connected objects in a facility to give managers a more complete view of their operations, including what’s working productively and what’s causing downtime and lost profits. “That’s going to be a competitive advantage, to understand how your assets are performing not only from a maintenance perspective but also profitability,” Hackenson said.

Embracing technology and change

There are even more potential benefits to this technology. As APICS Senior Managing Editor Elizabeth Rennie writes in her article in the latest issue of APICS magazine, organizations that choose to implement digital twins can potentially unlock product quality improvements, more efficient operations, service savings and more. Companies just have to be willing to embrace the change and keep up with the latest digital trends.

APICS magazine keeps readers on the cutting edge of the latest technology and innovations for improving business, making it easier for companies to keep up with the pace of change in the field. Published quarterly, this award-winning resource, which is free for APICS members, delivers actionable supply chain strategies, innovative industry research, practical tools and insights from lessons learned. Read the latest issue today at apics.org/magazine.