Digital Twin set to become a Must-have

Madlyn Kowalczyk, Siemens | June 2022

Digital twins ensure competitiveness. This is the experience of numerous users in the process industry who are working with a solution developed by Siemens and Bentley Systems. Bart Moors from Siemens and Alistair Stubbs from Bentley Systems describe what makes this platform unique and, furthermore, how they can help customers to advance their digital maturity.

 

A plant manager, a maintenance engineer, a system designer, and a control system supplier meet to discuss a problem in a chemical plant. No one needed to travel to this meeting. Everyone is able to keep their distance and yet still enjoy an optimal view of the equipment of the entire plant. How is that possible? What sounds like a brainteaser is, in fact, the new reality. Such a scenario, made possible by a digital twin, has many advantages, and not just in times of the COVID-19 pandemic. After all, bringing together experts from different fields of expertise and companies represented a real challenge until recently. This is true not so much in terms of communication between experts, as online meetings are now common practice, but rather in terms of being able to jointly view a digital representation of a plant where everyone can rest assured that it corresponds to reality. That is what is unique.

 

For many users, the most obvious point of entry to the digital twin is via training in a virtual environment. Long before the plant goes into operation, things can get underway. As soon as the plant designers have transferred their planning data, the virtual plant is generated. “The use of a digital twin for training purposes adds value for many plant operators,” says Bart Moors, CEO of Comos Industry Solutions at Siemens, who alongside his team has already gained considerable experience with digital twins in the process industry. After all, the PlantSight solution, developed jointly with Bentley Systems, has been available in the form of Software as a Service since 2019. This solution significantly reduces the effort required to build a complete digital twin of a process plant. PlantSight integrates and contextualizes data from different sources. The result is a “single source of truth” that makes correlations transparent and allows the presentation of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).

Linked to reality

During development, Siemens and Bentley benefited from each other’s expertise. As a specialist for engineering software, Bentley Systems knows the needs of plant designers when generating a virtual representation of a plant from their 2D and 3D models, as Alistair Stubbs, Vice President at Bentley Systems, explains: “This digital twin needs to be kept up to date, and not just the engineering model itself. Connectivity to reality is key. For instance, it becomes possible to compare whether the current performance information matches the expected performance.” When it comes to linking with real-time data and improving performance, the expertise of Siemens and the potential of its Digital Twin solution really come into play. With PlantSight as a shared solution, both companies pursue the same vision: To provide a consistent view of plant information as a basis for making good decisions. The focus is often on plant performance, but also on managing hazardous situations, or on environmental parameters such as CO2 emissions.

 

Bart Moors emphasizes that every user must play their part, both in meeting the continual challenge of keeping the digital twin “evergreen”, i.e. always up to date. He says, "What is needed is to build a multi-model structure to drive the twin representation." PlantSight is based on the iTwin platform and ISA cloud service that incorporates not only P&IDs, 3D models and IoT data, but also infrastructure planning data from Building information Modeling Systems (BIM). “Thanks to the open-source approach, users can apply their own standards to contribute additional data sources,” says Moors, adding, “PlantSight creates what is referred to as an ‘executable digital twin’ that can be conveniently used by numerous employees from various areas.”

 

Lighthouse projects in many industries

Numerous customers have now had some experience of PlantSight. One of the lighthouse references is a large subsea planning project of an oil and gas company in the Gulf of Mexico. Stubbs explains that the digital twin was used there right from the concept selection stage to evaluate various options much earlier than usual. He adds that, as a result of this, “the oil producer claims they are achieving better project outcomes”. The user’s goal here is an ambitious one, the aim being to reduce project time by 30 percent. Stubbs provides an outlook: "Because the success is so compelling, the company wants to expand the application of the digital twin to all capital projects, as well as expanding the use of the digital twin to operations."

 

One outstanding PlantSight project is being implemented by a corporate group that is an international leader in the field of food processing plants. “The company wanted a platform for optimal collaboration during the design phase. The aim during operation is to provide the end user with a deeper insight into the production facility and to support the company’s services in terms of maintenance and optimization,” says Moors. The intention was quite different for a mining company that wanted to use the digital representation for risk management, for remote support of the on-site team, and for optimizing energy and water consumption. By linking the digital representation with operational intelligence, the company’s sustainability strategy was successfully advanced.

BIM underpins virtual pharmaceutical factory

The ability to combine building information management with the production process is what makes PlantSight particularly valuable to pharmaceutical companies. Bart Moors, who was active in the pharmaceutical market segment at Siemens for a long time, is highly aware that “the connection between the BIM and the plant data is highly important for operators there”. Moors also explains how one of the first users in Germany initially built the digital twin for a specific use case and is now already in the transformation phase to address other use cases.

 

He expects the same to happen in the chemicals industry as well. Here, current PlantSight applications focus mainly on safety aspects and critical components, as well as on the possibilities of immersive training. However, Moors observes that users are now considering other use cases which were previously deemed too expensive or simply not feasible to implement, for instance, leveraging the digital twin to attain sustainability goals, decarbonization, decentralization and resiliency.

 

Digital twins ensure global competitiveness

Even if some approach the topic of digital twins via their specific use case, while others do so via an overarching digitalization strategy, PlantSight will sooner or later lead all users towards a comprehensive ecosystem. Scalable, flexible solutions, as offered by PlantSight, make it possible to link what were originally isolated applications to form a holistic, structured approach. For many users, this is the right route to take. Moors says, “More and more customers in the process industry see it as a risk not to invest in digitalization. And they recognize Software as a Service as an opportunity to make this investment.” In Germany in particular, he says, it is important to also lead employees and works councils along this path and show them the opportunities offered by digitalization. Moors says, “Many production employees in Germany will be retiring in the next few years. That alone is an argument for introducing digital twins. After all, new employees can learn the risks of a process and how to deal with them much more quickly in a virtual environment.”  Irrespective of whether companies wish to generate predictive maintenance schedules, align process variables to output product qualities, or optimize their facilities, the digital twin simplifies many work processes.

 

Both Stubbs and Moors firmly believe that the future belongs to the web-based digital twin, saying, “It will become the standard in the process industry”. A digital twin can be accessed from various devices around the world in order to make important business decisions based on trustworthy, up-to-the-minute data. Additional benefits result from linking it to IoT and ERP systems as well as by incorporating artificial intelligence. In the future, modeling and simulation of asset performance and product quality will gain importance to enable reliable forecasting and optimize process control. In this way, the digital twin will become an indispensable tool for process companies to expand and safeguard their international competitiveness.