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The Industrial Internet of Things

How Digital Twins Revolutionize Machine and Plant Construction

| Editor: Janina Seit

In five years' time, much of the world could be controlled by devices and systems that are networked via their private Internet of things. Their number could be in the billions, and they all would have a virtual doppelganger. A horror scenario from a science fiction novel? Not at all, as the following explanations show.

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How digital twins revolutionize machine and plant construction
( Source: Pixabay / CC0 )

Until recently, the performance of production facilities could only be monitored by physically inspecting the products they produced. This had many disadvantages. It was not only tedious and time-consuming — it became problematic and expensive especially because the designers hardly had a chance to repair their prototypes before they held the finished product in their hands. What happened on the way from the raw material to the final product remained essentially unknown.

The Digital Twin concept is by no means new; the first precursors were introduced by the University of Michigan in 2001. However, only recent advances in industrial networking and machine intelligence have helped him to make his breakthrough.
The Digital Twin concept is by no means new; the first precursors were introduced by the University of Michigan in 2001. However, only recent advances in industrial networking and machine intelligence have helped him to make his breakthrough.
( Source: gemeinfrei / CC0 )

Digital Twin: The Software Representation of the Object

Today, this is different: microsensors and special software allow fine-meshed management of production lines, with significant and much praised efficiency gains. This was made possible by a concept that captures and reproduces every tiny aspect of an object in digital form in the Cloud. The software representation of the object is called Digital Twin.

The concept of a Digital Twin is not new at all: the first precursors were introduced by the University of Michigan in 2001. However, only recent advances in industrial networking and machine intelligence have helped it to make a breakthrough. Digital Twins have now conquered the Internet of Things and are rapidly becoming the preferred technology for digitizing the physical world. To put it simply, data on the structure, context and behavior of a physical object is combined with an interface that allows insights into the past and present as well as predictions about the future.

Optimization of the Digital Image by Using the Real Counterpart

The digital copy of a product can be tested, modified and optimized at will throughout the entire design process. When the product is actually going into industrial production, it is characterized by maximum efficiency. And that's not all: by providing important feedback over the entire product life cycle, the digital double does not only reduce prototyping and design costs, but also enables effective failure prediction, lower maintenance costs and less downtime.

The Digital Twin concept improves the efficiency throughout the entire production chain. An example of this is a wind farm in which all the turbines are doubled by a Digital Twin. With the digital images, each windmill can be precisely configured prior to procurement and assembly. During operation, the virtual wind turbines can then optimize the power generation of the entire system by making small changes to parameters such as generator torque or blade speed on the basis of the data from their real counterparts.

Digital Twin Can Make Every Process More Efficient

However, the advantages of Digital Twins do not end with the optimization of production processes — after all, they can make every process in a company more efficient. Complex processes and systems usually generate large amounts of data. If several of these processes or systems are linked to each other via the Internet, for example, the number of data increases exponentially. Analysis software can help to make use of this data for predictive statements, while a rule engine translates the statements into concrete measures.

Developers and software engineers also benefit from digital representations. By combining Digital Twins with data intelligence, you get a 360-degree view of the past and potential future performance of your assets. The continuous flow of early warning, forecasting and behavioral data enables continuous refinement of the algorithms that underpin the processes and products, not least improving execution planning and extending asset life.

Smooth M2M Communication

However, the large number of suppliers and innovative manufacturing processes do not always make it easy for machine and plant manufacturers to implement an effective Digital Twin strategy. The scenario outlined above is an ideal situation in which the Digital Twin concept is implemented by all parties involved across the entire supply chain, bringing benefits to everyone. It can only become a reality if the exchange of information between the participating machines functions smoothly. For Tibco, this is an incentive to assume a leading role in the integration of IoT devices.

The pillars of the Tibco approach are Project Flogo and the Tibco Graph Database. Project Flogo is an ultra-lightweight integration solution that can outsource computing operations to very small devices and that is particularly flexible due to its open-source design. The integration engine is slender enough to reduce the average installation size by up to 20 times compared to common middleware and up to 50 times shorter than that of Java.

Despite its compactness, Project Flogo uses the powerful Translytical database Tibco Graph Database, giving developers a high degree of freedom to create IoT environments. The Tibco Graph Database transforms a network of dynamic data into meaningful, understandable and traversable relations that provide insight and possible ways to act.

More Connectivity on the Way to Becoming a Digital Doppelganger

By coupling Project Flogo with Graph Database, Tibco makes a significant contribution to the digital twin concept. Together, the two Tibco technologies improve connectivity, make the Internet of things smarter and push the boundaries of digital business for businesses. Their success once again demonstrates the superior results that the combination of a lightweight technology with a powerful reporting tool and the computing and storage power of the cloud can deliver.

This article was first published by Maschinen Markt.

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