Thought Leadership

Smart manufacturing – a digital twin and assembly layout

By Blake Snodgrass

Industrial machinery in manufacturing is witnessing dynamic technological advancements. It is a monumental mission to manage this new wave of advanced manufacturing and assembly operations for achieving the highest standard of quality while optimizing cost.

Machine manufacturers are leveraging the digital twin to make their manufacturing smarter. They are discovering the significance of a digital twin for machine builders and examining the digital twin process from design through manufacturing, operations management, commissioning and service life. 

However, today’s current technological landscape is a far cry from where it all began.

Mass manufacturing – a brief history

In 1908, Henry Ford created one of the first Model T’s, and by 1913 started mass producing it. Manufacturing vehicles in large volumes was a game-changer for America. These sturdy, go-anyway automobiles allowed people to explore the country in ways only trekked via a covered wagon and horse and buggy.

Before the turn of the 20th century, life remained unchanged over the past several hundred years, except for the locomotive in the mid-1800s and the invention of the first high resistant, incandescent electric light bulb in 1879 by Thomas Edison; however, that technology did not become ubiquitous until the 1920s. So, technological advancements coupled with mass production have radically changed the essence of society over the last one hundred years.

So, it is unmistakable that advances in manufacturing over the last couple of decades have catapulted us towards unparalleled dynamics accelerating towards current 4.0 technologies, including smart manufacturing, redefining the manufacturing process. Let’s touch on a couple of advantages of smart manufacturing technology.

Smart manufacturing via a digital twin

Smart manufacturing allows a company to extract data and apply it to manufacturing operations, including CNC programming or inspection and assembly processes. This information helps formulate a digital twin of the product.

Additionally, when manufacturers are machining, they require sensors and feedback to execute production and manufacturing processes to leverage the manufacturing of the digital twin. Suppose an inspection process is used when making the machining tool. This method results in inspection data that creates traceability from design to manufacturing, with a closed-loop process based on a high-fidelity digital twin. It is essential to link the digital twin of the product with the digital twin of the machine.

A comprehensive solution is vital to know every step in the manufacturing process, including idea creation, developing the product via machining, executing, and extending it across the entire service life based on the digital twin. Now machine manufacturers and designers can create value, reduce cost and compress delivery schedules. Furthermore, it closes the loop faster between manufacturing operations and engineering. 

New strides and technological advancements propel the manufacturing industry to more extraordinary innovations, which require improving machinery operations and making a factory smarter.

The digital twin simulation provides immeasurable advantages for the manufacturing environment, and the machine builds in the smart manufacturing process.

Smart manufacturing – assembly and layout

Another advantage of smart manufacturing and operations is the assembly layout. A good example is if there are five machines in one location and ten machines elsewhere, though all may be similar, there are still variances. So, how do you ensure that the correct parts are in the right location on the assembly floor at the right time? The answer is a software solution that lets you simulate the machine location on the floor and get materials to them. It’s process simulation, which is a novel idea to ensure eliminating high-traffic zones to areas of delay in receiving materials. There is a need to improve optimization in how the work cell is located and in the machine builder.

Everything needs to be within an arm’s reach, so it’s not just the shop layout and simulation but also the process simulation. There can be conflicts that are overlooked in the order of operation. Machinery is about putting ten pounds of functionality into a five-pound bag. So, the assembly process is a compromise that’s a result of the design. However, it’s essential to view the assembly process and decipher the tools to achieve optimum quality in current trends.

The shop layout capability and process simulation at the human factor level must be aware of all problem areas. Sometimes these problems don’t manifest themselves until an incident occurs in the field. For example, a bolt may loosen up and cause failures. However, the root cause could be the capability of the assembly process. So, being able to simulate it as part of the base process is crucial for improving the development process. It’s not merely looking at the individual and machine assembly processes but scheduling multiple machines and multiple product lines simultaneously.

Consequently, software is necessary to simulate the upfront design process in the software development piece. So, it is essential to simulate the PLC code on the machine floor and run it through the use-cases effectively to validate that the codes perform in the way the simulation indicates. Also, it is important to focus on areas of challenge that cannot be simulated, to quickly bring that machine into a commissionable state. 

Unfortunately, when a machine is sitting idle or being tested, it takes away potential cash time. So, the less time in commissioning and debugging, the more rapidly you can get the machine to the customer and perform simulation for movement of parts and kinematics. 

These are items performed from an assembly management operations perspective to drive value for the company and efficiency in generating more cash flow, to reduce margin erosion by errors and quality problems. And none of this could occur without the executable digital twin. 

As you can see in this initial discussion covering only a couple of aspects of smart manufacturing, the manufacturing industry is seeing radical changes in the dynamics of hardware, products and processes based on rapid technology advancements. We will cover other innovative attributes of smart manufacturing in the near future.

Software solutions

Siemens Digital Industries Software is driving transformation to enable a digital enterprise where engineering, manufacturing, and electronics design meet tomorrow.

The Xcelerator portfolio in Siemens Digital Industries Software suite of products provides a full suite of solutions to empower machine builders and suppliers with the essential tools to thrive in their highly competitive market and transition seamlessly to create tomorrow’s machinery today.

Also, for more information on Siemens Digital Industries Software products and services, visit or follow us on LinkedInTwitterFacebook and Instagram.

Siemens Digital Industries Software – where today meets tomorrow

Related links: 
Industrial-machinery and smart manufacturing 
Implementing smart manufacturing for a smart factory 
Smart manufacturing and industrial machinery – Podcast series

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