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Let’s start with, so what is a ‘digital twin’ – well, I would say that it is an exact representation of a component, or group of components, in a digital based environment i.e. a computer program. Not just a rough look-a-like, such as Minecraft or some other Xbox game (other gaming platforms are available), but a much more detailed and exact representation that includes fluid, mechanical and electrical simulation elements.
The digital twin isn’t only the component, it can be the final product that components assemble into, such as an airplane or car or other complex system… or it could even be a digital twin of the factory that is manufacturing those cars… And Additive Manufacturing is a process that can take that digital model and in one manufacturing environment, layer by layer turn that digital model into physical reality.
As mentioned, in today’s businesses we already see digital twins being used to represent factories, cars, aircraft, computers, robots, etc. And in Additive Manufacturing we can only work in the digital world with a 3D digital model of the desired component.
What I find interesting now is that we can build the part, according to the 3D model, take that physical component and carry out our own 3D scan, creating yet another 3D model. Now we have a digital representation of what the designer or customer wants, we have the actual part that we can touch and feel and also a digital twin of that actual part. This digital twin of the actual part can then be sent back to the designers and he can compare what we have manufactured to what his model wants, and even use the actual part model to simulate its impact, digitally, in the final design.
This also means we are able to create digital twins of older components that do not have 3D models today. We can take, say, a car part from a historic car where drawings and even suppliers are no longer available – we can scan that part and then re-create the component, additively, without the need of tooling.... opportunities galore and that is evident in the market place.
In the future I would imagine that not only will there be a digital twin of the component, showing the internal and external requirements, but also a digital twin of the process that made that part; the process parameters, the energy consumption, how long did the build take, how many layers were built, were there any issues.. all of these aspects building a digital picture of the part enabling further analysis and confidence in the components’ final application…
Add to that customers will be able to embed into their 3D models process definitions and encryptions controlling exactly how many ‘prints’ can be generated from their valuable model.
Now some people, some customers don’t want all that.. they just want to know that the final part is good enough. But some customer do, and with the power of the digital world driven by Siemens digital solutions.. this is all possible today!