ManufacturingJanuary 18, 2021

Virtual Twin: Visualising success in the factory of the future

The impact of virtual twin technology on manufacturing in the post-pandemic world.
Avatar Liang Ying Shun

In this article, LIANG Ying Shun, Dassault Systèmes’ Manufacturing Technical Lead for Asia Pacific South, examines the transformative impact of virtual twin technology on the future of manufacturing in the post-pandemic world. The article was first published in The Business Times Singapore on 4 November 2020.

Creative destruction – the dismantling of long-standing practices in order to make way for innovation – has contributed to the reduction in the average lifespan of companies. Today, the average age of a Fortune 500 company comes in at under 20 years, as compared to 60 years in the 1950s.

It is no different in the manufacturing industry, with social, economic, and technological disruptions reshaping how businesses are interacting with their customers. While responding to these rapidly shifting nuances effectively is tough going even in the best of times, COVID-19 has further complicated things. Manufacturers are facing an unprecedented level of uncertainty related to future customer buying preferences and behaviours, with a recent survey by EY revealing that only 10 percent of supply chain executive respondents were prepared effectively to address disruptions resulting from the pandemic.

In the Age of Experience, manufacturing has expanded out of its traditional four walls into a global value network. Smart manufacturing now requires more than just being first across the finish line—it requires agility and a development process that embraces a data-driven, multidisciplinary approach.

Big data creates incredible business opportunities

We’re experiencing a global Industry Renaissance today, bringing new ways of seeing the world, inventing, learning, producing and trading. As manufacturers consider how to ramp up operations or transition mass production to smaller, more customised manufacturing, data will be a transformative force. Big data is constantly coming in from various input streams, especially as manufacturers increasingly use the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) in production and operations.

In the past, manufacturers did not have the luxury of data to inform them of potential issues; instead, they had to hypothesise an issue, before collecting the data to determine if it was true. This added costs to operations, with manual inspections proving to be expensive, time-consuming, and labour-intensive. Added to that was the fact that such inspections often left an organisation exposed to human-risk and the costs associated with workplace injuries.

Today, the IIoT has given manufacturers a new look into their processes and products down to a granular level of detail. Data can be collected across every point in the supply chain, product and distribution network. With robust analytics capabilities, in the form of artificial intelligence and machine learning, manufacturers are able to gather the insights they need to help address an issue.

Transforming the way we work

Recent disruptions have provided manufacturers with a golden opportunity to reorient their operations and supply chains by adopting smart manufacturing to accelerate their digital journey. In particular, they have highlighted the importance of being able to pivot quickly in response to disruptions or new opportunities by having a resilient supply chain.

A virtual twin can play a significant role in these scenarios. A complete digital replica of a physical asset or real-world process, such as a factory or supply chain, a virtual twin enables real-time monitoring and adjustments, enabling businesses to mirror their manufacturing value stream with a virtual one, experiencing and creating new concepts and ideas in no time.

This helps them drive new flexibility and productivity into their physical operations on a continuous basis, which increases their business resilience—creating a Factory of the Future.

Seeing and knowing your big data

One of the biggest challenges of exponential data is the ability to visualise it in a quick and user-friendly manner in order to make informed decisions. In fact, many manufacturing companies spend over 30% of their time on manual processes, such as finding data, and updating information—all of which impact productivity, ingenuity and profitability.

While only six percent of manufacturers today are very confident in their systems and capabilities for end-to-end visibility, the factory of the future will connect all its data seamlessly, and it will extend those connections across the whole supply chain, providing end-to-end visibility across all processes. This will enable actionable insights and much faster decision-making, as it eliminates a huge amount of variability that manufacturing businesses have to deal with today.

Additionally, manufacturers can also compare their own data with data from other factories around the world and apply continuous improvement to enhance the output and improve performance.

Empowering the workforce

With unprecedented uncertainty prevailing in our global economy, it is imperative to have a strong investment in a next generation workforce. In fact, a category of waste in lean manufacturing is underutilisation of employees, and the remedy is capitalising on employees’ creativity. By using knowledge and know-how to innovate and to solve problems, such waste can be reduced, directly translating to process optimisation and sustainability.

For people to be more efficient, work well and function in a productive environment, they need autonomy. Autonomy comes with workers understanding their roles in the organisation and value network. Technology such as virtual twins can empower the factory workforce by providing employees with access to data and information that can be used to objectively measure their performance, as well as to focus on skills enhancement. Each employee can review their progress, and managers are able to monitor and improve the efficiency of workers.

The digital thread that connects

Getting ahead of the competition requires a fully integrated product development process that involves three pillars of innovation—data science, contextualisation, and collaboration. By providing a digital thread from product design to distribution, manufacturers can collect, analyse and transform data in the global renaissance into insights for continuous improvement of products and operations.

Virtual twins will drive tangible value for companies, create new revenue streams, and help answer key strategic questions. By combining a rich knowledge set with high-quality simulation, manufacturers can take real-world data input, and simulate a continuous circle of innovation and value creation that is based on real-world activities.

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