Dr. Eoin Hinchy
Researcher, Confirm Centre
Professor Conor McCarthy
Director, Confirm Centre
Confirm is a €47M SFI funded research centre for Smart Manufacturing, and 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, which 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 digital model, updating the digital twin on its performance over its lifecycle. This information can then be used to develop more efficient, better performing and cheaper future products with a faster time to market.
Live insight from the realworld tech, feeds into its digital twin
In a live manufacturing environment real-time process data can be extracted from current production lines and stored alongside historical data in the digital twin. Data analytics can then be used to examine this information to develop more efficient, higher capacity and faster production lines. If additional manufacturing steps are needed, these can be validated virtually in the digital world to ensure full function before the physical manufacturing line is touched, therefore reducing risk.
Digital twins are also valuable in terms of record retention. If a product issue is reported, the manufacturer can rewind the digital twin and closely inspect equipment performance and sensor data during problem periods. Again, analytics can be used to recognise trends that can be correlated to manufacturing defects, allowing for product recalls prior to product failure.
Designing hybrid materials that will benefit Irish industry
Confirm is actively researching digital twin technology using commercial and research based software to design the 3D models, run simulations, animations, that are updated in near real-time with live production data. Confirm is also developing a digital twin test-bed demonstrator at the University of Limerick, which combines the product, process and the machine in one system. This test-bed will showcase digital twin 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. The system architecture is being designed and developed by Dr. Eoin Hinchy, with the joining applications being researched by PhD students Damian McCarthy and Pat Mongan.
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.