What can a digital twin mean for an industrial process? The Smart Industry Twin project makes this clear for SMEs. Students built a digital representation of an automated production process in the Smart Industry Twin case study of the project. In the developed twin, the real system is directly linked to physical reality. Teade Punter, work package leader and High Tech Embedded Systems (HTES) lecturer, and Mark Stappers of the Mechatronics & Robotics lectureship, explain which opportunities this technology offers the business community in the Brainport region and how this project helps.
Digital Twin in 18 weeks
At the Brainport Innovation Campus, there is a fully automated work set-up, a ‘conveyor belt’ in fact. Punter: “In recent years, this set-up has been built by Engineering students and shows a fully automated process. In the last six months, students from the Embedded Systems minor have developed a digital twin for this in just 18 weeks’ time, which makes it possible to monitor and analyse the process on the assembly line in real time, but also to make adjustments. The big challenge for SMEs is time and investment when it comes to innovations like digital twins. Here we show what it takes to take steps in this in a short time.”
Mechatronics, Robotics and Digital Twinning
The case of the Smart Industry Twin is a collaboration between the Fontys professorships High Tech Embedded Software (HTES) (Fontys ICT) and Mechatronics & Robotics (Fontys Engineering). The interesting thing about that process, Stappers and Punter explain, is that two worlds come together: “It’s actually like bringing two worlds together; those of operational systems and digital systems. Mechatronics programs in Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs). Their data is, as it were, in a different language than the one you need for the digital ICT level of a digital twin and that is a challenge. By connecting Internet-of-Things (IoT) boxes to the set-up, we can retrieve the right data.”
After collecting the data, the second step is virtualisation. Punter: “You can go in different directions here, depending on your final application. You can build a virtual representation in a game engine, such as Unity, but also in another simulation environment, such as WinForms, which we did here.” The last layer in the process is controlling, in which you start looking at what exactly the digital twin can do: “That can be controlling, but also retrieving information and acting on it. The latter is key to efficiency in a Smart Industry process where data is indispensable.”
Predictive Maintenance and remote working
There are various reasons for a company to deploy Digital Twins. An often-heard motivation is preventive maintenance. In a setup that runs 24/7, this is crucial to prevent problems and damage: “For example, you can read whether the engines need lubrication, but also determine the best time to do this. You can also use the digital twin as a shadow system in innovation and improvement projects with the machine. That was also a reality for us.” Because of the corona measures, students could not physically work with the setup. A digital twin makes it possible to do that remotely, even with larger numbers of students than would be physically possible, Punter explains: “That in turn is very relevant for tech companies developing new machines or equipment, this way multiple teams can work on the project simultaneously.”
Digital Twin Academy
Smart Industry Twin is part of the larger Digital Twin Academy project. The results of this project therefore also serve two purposes; to explore the possibilities of a digital twin, but also to build a demonstrator to educate and inform SMEs. That is the next step of the project. Interested parties can find more information and contact us via the project page.
Digital Twin Academy is an Interreg Euregio Meuse-Rhine (EMR) project. The programme is financed by the European Regional Development Fund and is a cooperation of various authorities, research and education partners and partners from the business world. Smart Industry Twin is one of the subprojects.
Author: Guido Segers