EU Automation: digital twins helping manufacturers adapt

By Georgia Wilson
Claudia Jarrett, US country manager at EU Automation on how digital twins can help manufacturers adapt to the unpredictable...

It’s clear that the COVID-19 outbreak will greatly effect consumer habits for the foreseeable future. But what does this mean for industrial manufacturers, and how can they adapt to the continuing trends? Here Claudia Jarrett, US country manager at industrial automation parts supplier EU Automation, explains how digital twins, plus a concept known as “glocalization”, can help companies prepare for changes in the supply chain. 

It’s always been the case that disregard for local market conditions can negatively impact businesses and lead to operational and supply chain issues, including at the manufacturing level. 

These behaviours have changed continually in recent months. Morgan Stanley surveyed that 69 per cent of consumers were going out only for essentials during the last week of March, compared with 75 per cent earlier that the month. The Economist, meanwhile, summarised that “A stockpiling surge in early March has given way to penny-pinching”. Looking ahead, Forbes predicts that “trends such as mobile payments, contactless delivery for food and packages, and e-commerce for non-traditional items (think cars and furniture) have a good chance of gaining more traction in the US in a post-COVID-19 world.”

To keep up with these trends and stay competitive, there is more onus than ever on food and beverage manufacturers to understand, and be ecologically prepared for, changing consumer behaviours. The term “glocalism” is sometimes applied here, an ethos of supply chain management where manufacturers strive to achieve a supply chain that acts both on a local level, but also adapts to local demand. 

But how do COVID-19 trends, and aspirations towards glocalism, affect supply chains at the manufacturing level?

Keeping up with the changes

COVID-19 is affecting manufacturers in three main ways, according to Accenture, the business strategy consultancy. 

One is that food manufacturers must prepare for “hypergrowth” in certain goods like canned, shelf stable and frozen goods. Another is they should be equipped for “transitioning and repurposing legacy lines to make new products to support the community”. One example was the beermaker, Budweiser, which has contributed its resources towards producing and distributing bottles of hand sanitizer.

Finally, Accenture predicts that, “Where demand has drastically fallen off or supply chains have been disrupted, manufacturers are slowing or shutting down production volumes.”

It’s clear that manufacturers must be able to rapidly move items where they will be needed. Yet, to achieve this requires higher levels of traceability and flexibility, and, ideally, the capability to analyse and keep-up-with consumer behaviour in real-time.

This is where digitalisation and Industry 4.0 come into play.

Two’s better than one

Manufacturers with digital platforms, accessible data and advanced analytical capabilities will be able to respond more quickly, accurately and successfully to COVID-19 changes or disruptions. One method to achieve this is with a digital twin, through which manufacturers can develop rapid demand and supply scenarios, and assess their feasibility before implementing them.

A digital twin is, in short, a detailed digital counterpart of a physical asset, process, or system. It also includes all the engineering information necessary to model its performance. They are continuously updated with data from multiple sources, which makes them different from static, 3D models. 

Furthermore, digital twins are a tried-and-tested technological step towards testing, and implementing, glocalized supply chains. Using artificial intelligence (AI), digital twins can be used to create a virtual glocalized supply chain. This is typically based on dummy data to test issues with supply chains, inventories and products.

Based on this dummy data, pending disruptions can be run through hypothetical scenarios to help better understand the service, cost and risk implications of decisions and unexpected market conditions. That includes the unexpected rigours and disruptions of COVID-19.

Tangible results

Digital twins may be virtual, but that can yield tangible results. These include a transparent supply chain strategy that is comprised of rules on how to absorb and refine costs, which can be shared among all workers at all levels within an organization.

However, to get these benefits, manufacturers must also grapple with the tangible equipment requirements. The implementation of a digital twin, and of better data management, lies in Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and using the right tools and computing infrastructure. The sometimes significant costs of this up-to-date IT infrastructure can preclude the use of digital twins for some organizations.

This is where the support of an industrial automation parts supplier can prove critical. At EU Automation, we recommend that smaller manufacturers should start small and scale up as they begin to see the advantages of the technology. 

What are the advantages? Let’s use predictive maintenance as an example, which can be based on the real-time data collected by a digital twin. The digital twin can collect real-life, real-time sensor data from all machines used for manufacturing, as well as IoT along the entire supply chain, and then corroborate this with its own digital representation in an enterprise resource planning system (ERP). 

With real-time insights into all aspects of any supply chain, companies can react more quickly to demand changes at the local, country-based or cross-regional level and achieve true glocalization, as a result.

An example of how a digital twin is used on a regional level is that there is a digital twin of Singapore! Incredibly, this twin maps all of the variables of the island country to help city planners understand and improve the efficiency of energy consumption, as well as many other applications that improve the daily lives of Singaporeans. 

Investing in such Industry 4.0 concepts is not only critical in helping manufacturers adapt to local market conditions. It can also help in making the future effects of COVID-19 a lot more foreseeable.

For more information on business topics in the United States and Canada, please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief North America.

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