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Process Manufacturing, Uncategorized

Digital Twin – what exactly is it?

In a previous blog post, we explained that contemporary marketing language or buzz words can create confusion.  One example of a common buzz word that may cause confusion is the concept of “Digital Twin.”  Customers are asking about it and vendors are promoting it.  But, what exactly is a Digital Twin?  We decided to start with the Wikipedia definition:

A Digital Twin is an integrated multiphysics, multiscale, probabilistic simulation of an as-built vehicle or system that uses the best available physical models, sensor updates, fleet history, etc., to mirror the life of its corresponding flying twin”

“A digital twin is a real time digital replica of a physical device”


According to the definitions, a digital twin can range from an HMI graphic screen displaying real-time data of the actual asset to a first principal’s simulation model allowing real-time “what-if” scenario analysis about the asset.

The first example is ubiquitous and accomplished quickly and cost effectively. The second, however, is highly specialized and requires a significant amount of effort to implement. 

With Digital Twin having such a wide spectrum of possibilities, how do we define a Digital Twin solution?  The answer is found in the question.  A Digital Twin can take many forms and the particular solution depends on the problem being solved as well as the desired outcome.

Rather than looking at a Digital Twin as a one-size-fits all, ask yourself this question – “What are my Digital Twin needs?”  This is a classic case of not letting technology define your problem, but rather letting your problem define the technology.

In many scenarios we are seeing these days, the goal is provide plant operators and subject matter experts with all the digitally available information about an asset for trouble-shooting and operations optimization. 


In real-terms, there are a few steps to this.  First, if your plant is not currently collecting and storing data from all your key sensors in in a proper historian, effectively storing that data is the first step.

For the plants that have already implemented this step, the next opportunity is to contextualize this data correctly based on the process.  Contextualizing data means organizing the data by asset, as well as easily filtering and aggregating the data in a meaningful way.   The next step is to look at additional “digital data.”  For manufacturing and utilities, this could mean data collected offline, like LIMS or lab/quality data.  This offline data provides important information about the output of an asset and is vital to optimization.  Additionally, there may be other digital content, such as SOP’s and training materials.  The ability to link these digital assets to the physical asset is very beneficial. 

A paper industry customer we’ve worked with has taken advantage of centralized subject matter experts for their unit operations.  There are several complicated and distinct processes required to turn a wood chip into a finished product.  Having an expert in each of these operations at each site is not feasible.  The evaporation process is a good example. It is energy-intensive and in many locations a production bottleneck.  To ensure success, the customer created a model of the necessary information for each evaporator.  In this case, the information included the usual suspects of historian and lab-quality data, organized in an asset structure.  It also included a common set of content for each site, used centrally by the SME and at the site – 1) High-Performance Process Graphic 2) Detailed Trend Overview 3) Operation Envelopes and 4) Automated Notifications.  Of particular value was the High-Performance Process Graphic. It is an exact representation of each site, built using Process Flow Diagrams, Operator Displays, and P&ID’s.  This detailed representation allowed the remote SME to communicate with the on-site operations and maintenance teams effectively. 

In many cases, this graphic contained the information normally represented on 10-12 DCS screens and optimally viewed with a 4K monitor.  The combination of the right data analysis tools and access to this “Digital Twin” enabled remote monitoring to be successful.  The company was able to leverage existing infrastructure without costly rip and replace, which was critical given their variety of systems (multiple vendors for historian and lab/quality).


In one specific example, they had condensate contamination in the back-end.  Because of a comprehensive, all in one trend display, the operator spotted a change that occurred in the front-end while the contamination occurred in the back-end.  The operator found something related to the problem but did not understand why.  This discussion came up in an operator training session.  With the comprehensive, all in one graphic display, it was easy to demonstrate why the change the operator observed in the set’s front-end up as a problem in the set’s back-end.  Once the operator understood the interaction, the operator immediately knew how to fix the problem, which required shutting down the asset.  It was a great training exercise for everyone in the class and took a combination of people and a “digital twin” to solve the problem quickly.


Another area we are asked about more and more are digital tools to capture the inherent knowledge of the workforce.  The challenge could be the so called “brain drain” created by a wave of retiring workers, the desire to efficiently move workers from site to site or other compelling reasons.  The opportunity to efficiently convey the knowledge of your most experienced operator or subject matter expert to everyone at the plant delivers significant value.  This may come in the form of faster training for new hires to fewer calls to the SME that is on-call enjoying their vacation.  At the minimum, you have a happier workforce and in the ultimate scenario, your plant runs much more efficiently with a happy workforce.  Either way, it’s a win!

As an example, we recently had a customer roll out an initiative they called “5 Why”.  They found that consistently a problem in their process would get solved, but the knowledge about the solution would be lost.  The operator on duty the first time inherently knew how to solve the problem, but that knowledge was not known to anyone else.  So, when the problem occurred again, it would not get solved promptly.  To solve this, PARCview now has a capability enabling anyone in the plant to create tag relationships and link external resources (SOP’s, training, intranet pages, etc.) and then easily access these relationships.  The result is a living knowledge for the process.

In summary, the delivery of a Digital Twin is a compelling concept. dataPARC users have been taking advantage of this capability for twenty years.  Solving problems is not new, but lower costs and continued innovation make it easier and easier for plants to take advantage of the digital twin and run more efficiently with greater profitability.  

Curious what a Digital Twin can do for your business? Contact us today and we will explore the Digital Twin possibilities that dataPARC can offer your facility.



Dashboards & Displays, Data Visualization, Process Manufacturing, Troubleshooting & Analysis

The digital Transformation – everyone and everything is a part of it in some way. In the 20th century, breakthroughs in technology allowed for the ever-evolving computing machines that we now depend upon so totally, we rarely give them a second thought. Even before the advent of microprocessors and supercomputers, there were certain notable scientists and inventors who helped lay the groundwork for the technology that has since drastically reshaped every facet of modern life.


Dashboards & Displays, Data Visualization, Process Manufacturing, Training

New training dates have been added so now is the time to register for your dataPARC training held in Vancouver Washington just across the river from beautiful Portland, Oregon. Whether you need to escape the heat of summer, the cold of winter, or just need to get away from the plant, our hands-on training is your ticket to a welcome escape. Oh, did we mention the training?


Process Manufacturing

It is that time of year again, time to gather with your peers and talk about some of the great benefits of dataPARC software. This year’s dataPARC user conference will be held at the Sentinel Hotel in Portland, Oregon from October 15- 18-2018. Besides getting to learn in a beautiful setting (Portland, OR in the fall – gorgeous!) the following are five reasons why you should attend:


Process Manufacturing

The process industry is an industry that is consistently changing as processes are refined and innovative technologies are always changing the processing landscape. As complex systems are installed upgraded and monitored, expectations for profitability and smooth delivery of product remain. Soft sensors, with predictive models, provide scenarios in which estimations can drive decision-making and improve the reliability of current systems, often working hand in hand with their hard sensor counterparts thus creating comprehensive monitoring networks.


Process Manufacturing

Buzzwords have always been a part of technology but recently it seems the usage has exploded. At the same time usage is growing, the terms themselves have changed and evolved. Many contemporary terms now include a wide spectrum of meaning in their definitions, applying to new applications and solutions brought to market. In some cases, you’re also seeing very liberal use of terms for marketing and sales. From our perspective, the more we can all talk a common language and the more we realize many terms are replacing old concepts, the better off we will be.


Process Manufacturing

Historian packages were originally intended to be a support tool for operating personnel. Current and historical data was constantly displayed on a dedicated screen next to the primary control screens, and users were intended to interact with it at that location more or less continuously. As the historian became a one-stop source for all types of data throughout a facility, it became a tool that could benefit supervisory and management personnel as well. This led to the development of a variety of remote notification and reporting tools to meet the somewhat different needs of these individuals.


Process Manufacturing

As an engineer in a manufacturing facility, you are excited that management has purchased and implemented a plant wide Information Management system, or PIM. This gives you the ability to collect and store process data, and to display both real time and historical process graphs which allow you and the operators to better understand the process. You can finally trend important process variables next to each other in order to visualize relationships that you suspect exist, and to use historical data for accurate diagnosis of problems, for example, was it lube oil pump failure, or loss of cooling water that led to the recent shutdown of a compressor?