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How digital twin technology will transform the manufacturing sector

Dr. Eoin Hinchy

Researcher, Confirm Centre

Professor Conor McCarthy

Director, Confirm Centre

SFI fund the Smart Manufacturing research centre, Confirm. One of its key research themes is Digital Twin technology, which could be worth $90bn by 2025.

What is Digital Twin?

A digital twin in manufacturing is a virtual or cyber representation of a physical object, machine and/or their interacting process. In fact, the digital twin is continually updated in near real-time, and incorporates historical and current data, which are used to optimise business performance. The backbone of a digital twin is an integrated system of sensors, actuators, data storage, data analytics and digital models. With the iterative miniaturisation of sensors and the rapid increase of networked IoT devices and computing power, digital twins are now becoming affordable and offer significant return on investment.

Digital twin tech is becoming more affordable, with significant ROI

There are several business advantages for using digital twin technology in product design and manufacturing. For example, when designing a complex product such as a hip implant or a wind turbine blade, a digital model can be developed to test prototypes without the need of costly physical prototype manufacture. Product performance can be simulated under various loading and extreme operating conditions to ensure safe and reliable performance. Once manufactured, the product can feed real-time data to the model, updating the digital twin on its performance over its lifecycle. Certainly, more efficient, better performing and cheaper products will make use of this information.

Live insight from the real-world tech, feeds into its digital twin

Current production lines allow real-time process data extraction. The digital twin stores current an historical data. Developing more efficient, higher capacity and faster production lines can be achieved through data analytics examination. Virtual validation can aid additional manufacturing steps within the digital world.Furthermore, taking this step reduced risks that may occur after physical manufacture.

The technology is also valuable in terms of record retention.

Manufacturers rewind the digital twin when product issues are reports. They are able to closely inspect equipment performance and sensor data during problem periods.

Analysts are able to correlate manufacturing defects with recognisable trend. This allows for product recalls prior to product failure.

Designing hybrid materials that will benefit Irish industry

Confirm is actively researching digital twin technology. We are doing so using commercial and research based software. This software designs the 3D models, runs simulations and animations that are updated in near real-time with live production data.

The University of Limerick will house a digital twin test-bed demonstrator, developed by Confirm. This machine combines the product, process and machine in one system. This test-bed will showcase this technology to industry by joining plastics/composites to metals using ultrasonic welding and orbital drilling technologies. Availability of such hybrid material combinations will offer significant design and performance enhancements to products developed by many Irish industrial sectors. A new, €1.4M SFI funded robotic joining suite will provide a physical platform for further digital twin research.

The Digital Twin research is led by the Confirm Centre Director Professor Conor McCarthy and Professor Noel O’Dowd. Dr Eoin Hinchy designed and developed the system architecture. Also, PhD students Damian McCarthy and Pat Mongan researched the joining applications.

Finally, Digital twin lies in the future of manufacturing and product design, which has the power to improve manufacturing performance, reduce waste and energy consumption, with faster time to market, lower costs, and better product performance.


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