Digital twins – as discussed in a previous article – are virtual replicas of a physical asset or process which simulate and mirror their real-world counterpart’s behaviour, performance, and environment in real-time. This article will explore 5 value-boosting benefits of digital twins for manufacturing – from process optimization and predictive maintenance to improved turnaround time and the ability to simulate what-if scenarios.
What are the Benefits of Using Digital Twins for Manufacturing?
1. Process Optimization
Manufacturing facilities are often equipped with various sensors, providing information on the site’s current state. Engineers can use this information to create a digital twin of processes – or a process digital twin.
Process digital twins provide operators with information on potential output bottlenecks by simulating a whole object and provide insight into how its various components, assets, and units work together. This helps operators decide whether to recalibrate their machinery or use a different material for manufacturing, greatly enhancing both the quality and quantity of outputs.
An example of process digital twins in action is Avril using Braincube’s process digital twin to improve their grapeseed oil manufacturing process. Another example is Akselos, where we have used our structural digital twins to optimize heavy-walled reactor operations to cut down the start-up and cooldown time of the asset by 6-12 hours, unlocking significant uptime.
2. Predictive Maintenance
Digital twins can also help maintenance in the manufacturing industry, where unplanned downtime can cost millions in uptime annually. Digital twins give operators insight into asset integrity in different scenarios and environmental conditions by simulating those conditions. As a result, manufacturers, asset operators and engineers can identify critical hot spots to focus their maintenance efforts during the next planned maintenance. Digital twins can also help optimize load levels, tool calibration, and cycle times.
An example is Phoenix Contact Electronics engineers using Ansys software to integrate real-time sensor data with simulation results to predict future safety relay equipment failures. In addition, Akselos’ digital twin of the Shell Bonga floating, production storage and offloading (FPSO) unit – currently the world’s largest digital twin – helped engineers identify more than 15,000 fatigue locations and 230 critical fatigue hotspots. With this information, the Bonga FPSO operators could identify what areas need reinforcing or maintenance during their next turnaround period, saving time and money.
3. Asset Integrity Management
Continuous operations are paramount to facility revenue in all manufacturing processes, including within the refinery, petrochemical, and hydroprocessing industries. Within these industries, digital twin technology is evolving rapidly, and quickly becoming the industry standard in complete asset integrity management, making it possible to visualize the live conditions of assets from a mobile device or desktop, viewing the same live information in the same context as if you were on the physical site.
In this context, the value of digital twins lies in the accessibility of information and the ability to visualize and contextualize enormous amounts of data in one 3D asset model, creating the opportunity to glean actionable intelligence. This information can bring various benefits, including scheduling tank maintenance in advance and visualizing and staging work activities from anywhere.
In 2021, the Net Zero Technology Centre and CAN partnered with Akselos to enhance the asset integrity management of pressure vessels by better determining refinery rust locations. The partnership aimed to improve industry practice for inspecting and maintaining pressure vessels and confined spaces. The industry wished to limit intrusive inspections as confined space entry is dangerous and often fatal. With 22 casualties stemming from pressure vessel inspection in the United Kingdom alone, it is clear that the refinery industry needs a non-intrusive inspection to create a safer refinery.
The result of the partnership saw the incorporation of non-intrusive inspection equipment with digital twins, where one can perform a level 3 fitness for service inspection on metal loss without entering the vessels, thus reducing the risk of accidents.
4. Improved Turnaround Time
In petrochemical industries, planned shutdowns are known as a turnaround, described in detail by Oil & Gas IQ:
“A turnaround – which is sometimes referred to as a TAR – is a highly-expensive planned period of regeneration in a plant or refinery. During this time, an entire part of the operation is offlined whilst plants are inspected and revamped. Not only are the tools and labour required for executing a turnaround extremely expensive, but the revenue lost through shutting down production elements can amount to a significant portion of an annual budget. Turnarounds often throw up more issues than anticipated, making them difficult to keep on track, and requiring very experienced managers.” – Oil & Gas IQ –
Due to the intricacy and scale of the operation, turnaround maintenance is often planned well in advance to ensure it occurs as fast and safely as possible. Moreover, assets, such as refineries, are often ageing, with the average asset in the United States, for example, built more than 40 years ago. As a result, asset operators often must deal with increased wear and tear and are constantly looking for ways to increase facility uptime while maintaining safety.
Digital twins provide a solution by offering insights to operators to, for example, where reactors’ start-up/shutdown process can be accelerated, thus improving turnaround. There is also a significant upside regarding inspection and turnaround maintenance. A structural twin can tell the inspection and maintenance team exactly, down to the nearest centimetre, where the critical safety areas are and how much ‘life’ is left in them before requiring repair.
5. Simulating What-if Scenarios
Finally, digital twins offer asset operators in manufacturing a way to simulate different environmental conditions and scenarios. Industrial equipment comes with a series of operating conditions frames, but those conditions aren’t always consistent throughout production. Variances in conditions can stack up over time and create damage in unexpected ways. Structural digital twins can help asset operators and engineers simulate those outlier conditions to understand their asset’s integrity and health in the long run.
Cokers are an example of an asset that encounters a lot of variance in operating conditions. The coking process involves feeding residual oil into a large, upright structure called a coke drum. Inside the drum, a process known as thermal cracking takes place, separating the oil into vapour and solid petroleum coke. This solid petroleum coke is valuable and is used to produce fuel that helps power our homes and communities and in various manufacturing processes such as steel and cement.
The variance in operating conditions often comes from the coke being unevenly distributed in the coker drums, causing thermal deformities and damage, known as the banana effect of coker drums. Therefore, simulating the banana effect and other operational stressors can be vital for maintenance engineers and asset managers of refineries.
Akselos has been working with Pan American Energy to help their engineers at the Campana Refinery understand the integrity and performance of their coker drums. We built a high-fidelity structural digital twin with more than 3.8 million degrees of freedom. But this structural digital twin model isn’t just extensive; it is also fast and can simulate 80 hours of operating data in just 3 minutes. Furthermore, it can simulate multiple what-if scenarios, allowing asset operators to fine-tune their facility’s operations.
What is next for Digital twins in Manufacturing?
This article has detailed five value-boosting benefits of digital twins in manufacturing, but what is the future for digital twins in the manufacturing space? From the examples, digital twins can drive significant value, whether you want to optimize processes, undertake predictive maintenance, or improve turnaround time. Therefore, in the future, we expect a broader adoption of digital twins in manufacturing. Industry research also reflects this, with research from Research and Markets indicating that 89% of all IoT platforms will include digital twins by 2025. So the future of digital twins being applied to manufacturing looks promising.
Amidst the digitalisation of the production industry, Akselos is proud to contribute our digital twin technology to help manufacturers:
“In 2022, Akselos’ technology helped improve operations and unlock additional capacity in critical energy assets when global energy security concerns pushed operators to maximise their assets. Our technology is in high demand and protects some of the largest energy production sites in the world, increasing global energy security. It is also enabling the deployment of renewable energy at lower cost and aligning us with the global push towards net zero through key initiatives such as RePowerEU and the US Inflation Reduction Act.” –Thomas Leurent, Akselos CEO –