Improve the product lifecycle with the digital twin

Manufacturing software and digital twins have been the subject of a lot of hype, particularly around digital twins. With that hype comes misconceptions about what the digital twin is and what it can actually do.

To address some of the most common things we hear about the digital twin, we’ll highlight what it actually entails, including how it benefits businesses of all sizes, and we’ll debunk common misconceptions we hear from customers.

“I keep hearing about the digital twin, but what is it?”

The method for virtually predicting what physically happens is known as a digital twin.

Some will define digital twins as digital replicas of different assets, processes and systems. But a true digital twin integrates manufacturing software through a set of digital replicas or models driven by a rich information model called a digital thread, which connects information from your digital twins to provide insightful data.

Digital twins aren’t singular models, although they’re referred to as a singular “twin.” They consist of many mathematical models and virtual representations that comprehend an asset’s entire lifecycle and any essential technologies. They continuously evolve and update to reflect changes, giving you closed-loop feedback in a virtual environment.

Digital twins can also be created for products, production and performance, which means you can actually have multiple digital twins.

“My company isn’t big enough to use the digital twin.”

Having a competitive edge is important, and change is happening quickly in the market. If you can’t adapt or get a high-quality product into the market faster than the competition, it doesn’t matter your business size – you’re in trouble.

Whether you have 50 or 50,000 employees, you can benefit from the digital twin because it keeps you competitive. You can identify and address potential problems virtually and early in the lifecycle before you physically need to build anything. You can also identify areas to improve performance or production, ensuring you aren’t losing money on excess costs: this is particularly helpful for smaller businesses that may not have millions in their budget.

But one of the biggest benefits is that the digital twin can help you get your products into the market faster than your competitors. By doing things digitally in the beginning, and virtually validating before you physically build something, you don’t spend money on excess or unnecessary physical items.

“The digital twin is another version of CAD (or CAE, or CAM, or additive manufacturing).”

The digital twin is more than just one of these capabilities. Digital twins offer rich, detailed feedback about what’s happening, so they require multiple tools and capabilities.

Digital twins can also be catered to the size and scope of your business needs, and there are a number of capabilities that could go into them, including:

• Bills of material and digital mockups
• 1D, 2D or 3D analysis models
• System models and systems driven product development
• ALM or PLM
• Big Data analytics and machine learning
• Generative design
• Smart products
• Advanced robotics
• Cloud technology

(It could also include CAD, CAE, CAM or additive manufacturing.)

It’s fairly easy to imagine how this might work in a large enterprise, but what about a smaller business? Take Stockli, a Swiss ski manufacturer with about 250 employees. Larger ski manufacturers make close to 300,000 skis a year; Stockli makes roughly 50,000 a year.

By using a set of catered capabilities, the company reduced its production time from 2 days to 1 hour, allowing it to put its skis onto the market faster. This reduced production time and gave the company more time to easily and quickly produce new variants for skis, customising skis for customers’ style, proficiency, height and weight – a major differentiating factor between them and their competition.

How would this reduced production time increase your business’s innovation?

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“The digital twin is too expensive for my small business.”

The digital twin is not an “all or nothing” deal. You can pick and choose what you need for the digital twins in your business.

If you only need to create a digital twin of your product, you need tools to design, validate and build the product. For example, if you want data of your product’s electronics and software simulations, you would focus on capabilities that would include motion simulations and 3D models of heat, flow and transfer. You would also need predictive analytics to predict what will happen once your product has been built.

How would this kind of “customised” digital twin work in practice? Take Julbo, a global eyewear manufacturer, which used to have its CAD software produce models that had its engineers spending inordinate amounts of time reworking. Since the company incorporated digital twin capabilities, 90 percent of its CAD models are good for CAM purposes – an increase of 20 percent from their previous tools. Through improved manufacturing software they have not only reduced production time, but have also incorporated new styles of eyewear through a more precise, innovative tool.

“The digital twin won’t work with the tools/processes I already have in place.”

Implementing digital twin capabilities into existing processes shouldn’t be complicated. Depending on your business needs, there are a number of capabilities that can help you create your digital twin.

If you need something with cloud technology, you would only include products that would allow you to have access to that cloud technology. If you need something to help your electronics design, only include those capabilities.

The digital twin’s integration into existing technologies can be done pretty easily, even if you’re a small business. Look at Elmwood Reclaimed Timber Inc., which manufactures and markets reclaimed wood products that adhere to the company’s standards, guided by its respect for the environment.

Elmwood created a scalable, flexible capacity planning and scheduling package that integrated with its existing ERP system and homegrown shop floor data system. This planning and packaging helped the company increase its revenue and production output while improving its on-time delivery.

Final thoughts

There are plenty of misconceptions in the market about what the digital twin is and what it can do. Businesses of all sizes can benefit from the capabilities the digital twin brings to its processes and gain – and retain – a competitive edge for success in the market. By partnering Siemens to accomplish this, you gain access to the tools and capabilities that will help your business build its digital twins and find its competitive edge.

This concludes our post on debunking common myths we hear from customers about manufacturing software and the digital twin.

About the author
Helen Hauck is the manufacturing operations management marketing manager for the United Kingdom. She has been working in the manufacturing software space for more than 11 years. In her spare time, Helen enjoys baking, Formula 1, and handbags, in no particular order.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at