The nascent industrial revolution happening across the world, termed Industry 4.0, is helping to improve the entire value chain through the digitalisation of all processes and the integration and improvement of the interdependent processes, says industrial systems multinational Siemens Digital Factory and Process Industries and Drives Southern and Eastern Africa VP Ralf Leinen.
The speed, flexibility, quality and efficiency of all processes, from design, to development, manufacturing and use and optimisation of products, are being improved through the merging of the cyber and physical systems in the form of industrial "digital twins", which are comprehensive and detailed digital models that are holistic representations of the value chain, he said on Thursday at the Esteq Engineering Community Conference, held at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, in Pretoria.
These digital models and simulations of all aspects of industrial design, manufacturing, use and optimisation are more than merely virtual renderings of conventional industrial steps, but are being used to improve each of the steps of the processes, as well as improve the subsequent steps to improve and accelerate entire value chains.
"The design stage is improved through the use of digital models to accelerate product design and characteristics, as well as to test and verify the products. The design data is used to develop a virtual production line and to simulate the production processes needed to produce the product down to the finest detail, as well as determining the flow of data required to support production. This data is then used to create the physical production chain.
"However, the process goes beyond just simulation and data management. The code used to develop the virtual production processes, for example, is used to program the machinery that is used in the physical production environment, again accelerating the process and reducing the time to set up and start production," explained Leinen.
Subsequently, real-time data from customers or products in use is then leveraged to improve the quality of the products and user experience, as well as improving the design and physical production as part of a continuous circuit of improvement.
"The expectations of customers are changing and, as consumers become used to deep and continuous interaction with companies to specify our individual requirements for products, industrial processes are also changing to become real-time, user-specified, with batch sizes of one," he added.
The continuous circuit of improvement will lead to more robust, more stable, better quality, more efficient and more effective products, as well as more efficient, flexible and higher-quality design and production processes.
"Siemens calls our digital twin products a digital enterprise suite, which uses software and hardware in an integrated fashion. This is not just about the demands of individual consumers, but is shaping the thoughts of engineers, owners and CEOs about where this can lead us. This is being used in existing automotive production lines, for example, to shorten time to market and optimally produce cars, saving money and reducing failures. This is being used by Maserati and Volkswagen, where 98% of tests and corrections are done in the virtual world before they roll it out to the production lines. It is used to predict faults before they occur and to minimise their occurance upfront.
"In the food and beverage industry, these digital twins are helping to improve the quality and sustainability of the products in an environment where there are an ever-increasing range of products and inputs to consider. In the chemicals industry, they help to avoid bottlenecks before they occur, to simulate and test production processes and manage supply chains."
Further, Leinen noted that in global markets and supply chains, there is a need to compare not only machines or production lines or factories to each other, but to leverage and analyse the wealth of data from design through to the conditions and performance of products in use.
The Siemens MindSphere is a cloud-based industrial Internet of Things operating system built on open standards that enables all aspects of industrial processes to be easily connected and compared, whether fleets of trucks, aeroplanes, factories or production lines, as well as enabling the sharing of data in a cybersecured environment where only authorised users are able to access the systems, he added.
Users can link, relate and compare data and share insights, while protecting intellectual property through controlled sharing, to support the evolution of their products and services and to derive proper decision-making information. This leads to the creation of an ecosystem in which multiple inputs from within and outside the organisations can be leveraged to generate knowledge and intelligence.
"Analytics tools of all kinds can be created that can use this data and this ecosystem provides a platform for service providers and original-equipment manufacturers to improve their products, and their use, based on real-time data produced by machinery and products to produce models and solutions and to drive innovation in their operations," said Leinen.
This ecosystem can then be used to bring together use cases and applications that can be spread to the ecosystem community for the good of the users and producers, he added.
Digitalisation is changing the way products are developed and produced; how the products perform and communicate with the end-user and the producers; and is transforming businesses, cities and even societies, a video of the MindSphere OS stated at the end of Leinen's presentation.
Esteq CEO Cobus Oosthuizen said the real-time analysis of processes and the use of digital twins in industry, which is well established in the engineering industry, can be combined to enable engineers to make better decisions and to more effectively engineer the future.
Schalk Burger was a guest of Esteq at the conference.