Digital twins bring resilience and savings to supply chain

As resilience becomes ever-more important to supply chains, Lee Annecchino of Capgemini explains how digital twin tech is making a difference

Of all the technological advancements in recent times, digital twin technology continues to be one of the most discussed. 

For the record, a digital twin is a dynamic digitised model of a physical thing or system that relies on sensor data to understand its state, respond to changes, improve operations and to add value. 

In the context of supply chains, a digital twin is a virtual replica, comprising potentially thousands of assets, warehouses, logistics and inventory positions. It offers a clear view of the risks facing complex, interconnected supply chains. This allows supply chains to be agile, because risk is identified early and disruption is minimised, or perhaps even averted.

This sounds complex enough, but the truth is that digital twin technology is even more multi-layered and nuanced than many people realise.

For example, there are different levels and types of digital twins. Multiple layers of digital twins can coexist within an organisation. Some might represent an asset, while others will represent people and their interaction with that asset. Then further digital twins might represent a process, a facility, or the entire supply chain.

What is needed, and often lacking, is a strategy around creating a common data platform that is able to create digital threads to connect all of this data across all of these digital twins – something that creates a full genealogy of all that was involved in the creation of these multi-layered digital twins.

One solution to this is industry specific standards and communities. These include:

  • The OPC Foundation, an industry consortium for open connectivity of industrial automation devices and systems
  • The Digital Twins Consortium, which drives the awareness, adoption, interoperability, and development of digital twin technology. 
  • Microsoft’s Open Manufacturing Platform. This is a partner ecosystem that connects people, assets, workflows and business processes to bring visibility to operations, with a view to making them more adaptable.

Digital twins are being deployed in supply chains across all sectors and industries, but here, we focus on the aerospace and defence industries.

Lee Annecchino is EVP Global Aerospace & Defense Leader at Capgemini, where he is responsible for aero and defence (A&D) strategy and for helping create the ecosystem needed by the industry.

In a recent Capgemini report– Mirroring reality: Digital twins in aerospace and defence – Annecchino and his colleagues found that the ability to visualise and address issues virtually before committing to a solution – the raison d'etre of digital twin tech – makes it an invaluable tool for the A&D industry.

“In A&D, traditional approaches to solving problems throughout the value chain are often cost- and time-intensive,” says Annecchino. 

This is why, he says, an estimated 73% of A&D organisations now have a long-term roadmap for digital twin technology, and why, he says, investment “is ramping up” – being projected to increase by 40% year on year. 

He adds: “Aside from the potential for significant cost savings, A&D organisations are looking towards digital twins for benefits that include reduced time to market, increased sales, improved operational efficiency, access to advanced training environments, and technological advancement. Importantly, digital twins can also play a role in helping sustainability efforts.”

Capgemini’s research explores digital twin tech as the backbone of the industrial metaverse, where it helps businesses and individuals collaborate on processes,  systems and product design and testing. 

The report includes feedback from large aerospace original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), who are applying digital twins to manufacturing processes. Companies such as Airbus UTM, which is building the infrastructure needed to allow future vehicles, such as delivery drones, to safely share our future skies.

“Our digital twin allows us to model, simulate, and scale a wide range of situations for critical stakeholders, including drone and aircraft pilots, operators, regulators, and the unmanned traffic management service providers themselves,” Max Egorov Nova, Airbus UTM’s Head of Simulation, tells Capgemini.

Most importantly for the A&D industry, says Annecchino, digital twins can improve revenue without compromising on safety. 

“For example, while every aircraft has a maximum take-off weight), the weight limits imposed are typically lower than this. Using digital twins, coupled with weather and flight profile data, it’s possible to better estimate the required load without overloading the aircraft.

This, of course, saves fuels, which is hugely important for air freight carriers who are seeking to decarbonise operations.

“Sustainability is an important driver of investment in digital twins,” says Annecchino, “Technology is also improving the efficiency of flight engines, which is shrinking the industry’s carbon footprint.”

Confirming this is Stuart Hughes, Chief Digital Officer at Rolls-Royce, who in the Capgemini report reveals that, since 2014, the company has helped one of its airlines reduce fuel usage by 85 million kilograms – a saving of 200 million kilograms of carbon dioxide

Hughes says: “We did this by taking data on how the pilot is flying the plane, how the plane is operated, and how they do the operational funding around this. 

“We found data and insights that helped them to make better decisions. In areas where it felt there were barriers to change, we helped it design new policies and procedures.”

In the areas of logistics and the wider supply chain in A&D, Annecchino says digital twins have a significant role to play.

“They are essential for ensuring raw materials and finished items are packaged in the optimum volumes and sent to the correct destinations,” he says. “They have the ability to replicate package forms and packaging materials, and can lower financial and environmental costs.”

On supply chain, he says system-level digital twins are used to monitor networks, including real-time tracking of military operations for personnel, equipment, weapons systems, and essential supplies, such as food, water, and fuel. 

“The US military has also tried to ensure the integrity of its semiconductor supply chain by employing digital twin technology to verify the provenance of the components,” says Annecchino. “This has helped create a trusted ecosystem of chips.”

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