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Promoting Digital Twin Applications for Sustainable Manufacturing

Aug 15, 2019


Digital twin technology is often marketed as the silver bullet for manufacturing by offering to alleviate a host of strategic and operational pressures that companies face. Increasing efficiencies in operations while facilitating innovative product design helps keep costs low and promotes customer satisfaction. Reducing waste and energy consumption promotes sustainable practices, pleasing regulators, investors, and consumers that are increasingly using sustainability as a metric to assess a company’s value.

Unilever and Chevron Implement Digital Twins

Recently, Unilever created eight digital twins to streamline and realize further efficiencies in its consumer goods manufacturing processes. In one particular application, engineers used digital twin technology to predict the correct order of processes to get the most efficient batch time for shampoo. Chevron made a significant investment in digital twins as well, aiming to have sensors connected to its highest value equipment by 2024. Using these sensors to predict maintenance problems in its oil fields and refineries is projected to save the company millions of dollars every year.

Digital Twins Require Process Changes at the Organizational Level

Although prevailing literature portrays this approach as heavily dependent on cutting edge technologies and systems, the digital twin relies on many available technologies. It also requires various changes at the organizational level to successfully pilot, adopt, and operationalize. To successfully adopt this new approach, it is crucial that businesses first understand the requisite process changes at the organizational level, including:

  • Creating new data management, access, and storage protocols to ensure free flow of data and information
  • Embedding sustainability as a key metric for success in digital twin applications
  • Aligning digital twin functionalities with sustainability goals

Boeing first assessed its compatibility with current production processes before integrating digital twin technology into factory operations. “One of the areas that leads you to help (reduce) our integration risk of this technology is to use a number of standardized processes” said Jeffrey Miller, senior technical fellow, production engineering, commercial airplanes at Boeing. Given that in most organizations’ data is managed and stored in siloes, effective use of the digital twin will necessitate cross-cutting, enterprisewide changes. Without these adjustments, manufacturing companies may at best delay the effective implementation of the digital twin and at worst expend a large amount of time and resources for an underutilized technology.

Keep an eye out for Guidehouse Insights’ upcoming report, Leveraging the Digital Twin Approach for Sustainable Manufacturing, to learn more about digital twins. The report covers prevailing elements of the digital twin, its potential effect on sustainable manufacturing, and recommendations for manufacturing companies looking to successfully implement this approach.