Digital Twins: The Landing Pad, the Toolkit, and the Palette

Digital Twins: The Landing Pad, the Toolkit, and the Palette

I first joined the PLM software industry in the field of quality and reliability engineering: a discipline that manages and predicts information about the typically unmanaged and unpredictable parts of a product’s lifecycle: performance, operation, usage, sustainment, maintenance, and failure. To quality and reliability engineers, creating virtual models that accurately reflect and even predict real-world product performance and failure information is just a matter of course: it’s what they do.

Which is probably why, when my career path expanded to cover PLM proper—engineering, CAD data management, bills of material, sourcing, and manufacturing—I was more than a bit shocked to learn that most PLM software focuses primarily on development; while information from the operational phase of the product’s lifecycle,  which is arguably the longest phase, is typically a secondary consideration, if it is managed in PLM at all.

Aras is different. For one thing, quality planning and issue management, which impact every part of the product’s lifecycle, can be tightly woven throughout the Digital Thread of product information managed on the Aras platform. But managing information from the operational phase of the product’s lifecycle does not end with quality data in Aras Innovator.

Digital twins in Aras Innovator create a framework for information collected about products in the field (a landing pad); they inform new learning and exploration into this data, accessible by any application across the platform (a toolkit); and they enable what-if scenarios and predictions to help companies more realistically envision a new future for their product and business strategies (a palette).  

To explore each of these possibilities, read on. And don’t miss this year’s ACE conference, where you can view a 30-minute demonstration featuring our Digital Twin Core application, Predict and Simulate the Future with the Digital Twin, and a breakout session led by our Digital Twin product manager Graeme Taylor, Digital Twins, Life Control and Beyond. Where are we going?


The Landing Pad

For Aras, digital twins comprise the landing pad for critical information about products in the field. They are poised to collect the information that will instruct and empower the rest of the phases across the lifecycle with insights about what happens to their best-laid plans once the product has been launched.

Each digital twin is at the center of a series of axes: its unique configuration, its environmental and/or usage conditions, and its performance in response. To accurately interpret data about performance in unpredictable conditions requires an understanding of its exact configuration: a record of what was onboard the product at the time conditions were captured. The product has inevitably changed since it left the shop floor, and those changes must be reflected to make sense of the data being collected.

With the Digital Twin Core application, Aras Innovator manages a complete and accurate Digital Twin of product information, including up-to-date configuration and performance data. With every change to the physical product in the field, its digital representation can be updated to reflect the  new physical, serialized part newly onboard the device. Learn how to build Digital Twins in Aras Innovator in our “How-to Guide for Building Digital Twins”.

But changes to physical products comprise more than just parts. Other critical changes to manage include the operational life and maintenance activities for products. Digital Twins must reflect this reality, and Aras Innovator offers the means to define and collect these critical metrics so users can understand how the Twin should be performing based on its expected performance and maintenance schedule. Information about how it should be performing (and how it should be maintained) becomes a measuring stick by which to understand how well it actually is performing. Explore how this works on the Aras Innovator platform in the blog, How to Track the Operational Life of Your Digital Twins.

Exact product configurations, life data, and operational events in the Digital Twin Core application in Aras Innovator set the expectation for the physical world, reflecting how the product should have performed. They create the virtual landing pad by which to collect and accurately interpret this critical information. Then, the information landing there—how the product actually performed—is captured in the Digital Twin user experience and available for anyone throughout the organization to use as they need to: a toolkit from which to choose the information they need to improve how they do their jobs …


The Toolkit

Digital twins in Aras Innovator are like toolkits. Users across the company can build with and connect to this landing pad in any number of ways they need to, realizing the strategic value a digital twin can bring to your ecosystem of customers, suppliers, and teams from design through manufacturing.

With the Aras approach to the Digital Twin, every user who needs to can virtually interrogate and experience what parts are on-board a physical product on the field, how long they’ve been part of the current configuration, what their life expectancy is given the current configuration, and what operational events are due next to keep things running smoothly. They can explore the real-world performance data and operating conditions associated with each part, and with the product as a whole, and use this information to feed critical parts of PLM with new information that was typically never accessible to PLM before.

A Digital Twin represents and makes accessible a physical reality in the virtual world. In Aras, there is one digital twin for every physical product in the field – be they a fleet of 10 or 10,000. In Aras Innovator, the Digital Twin is not a generalization, and it is not limited to 3D CAD data alone. It is unique and individualized—a one-to-one correlation with the physical part in the field—and, while it connects with the complete Digital Thread of product information extending back to requirements, system models, simulation inputs and results—along with engineering, quality, sourcing, and manufacturing data—it is not solely an engineering-focused dataset.

Users from each of these domains can deconstruct—or reconstruct—information from the Digital Twin, to use in their own unique domains. They can elect to explore one unique twin given its extraordinary (or ordinary) operating conditions; or they can look across the whole fleet for generalized insights. How well did a physical product meet its expected requirements? Traverse the Digital Thread from the physical product in the field back to the requirements information about how it should’ve performed to find out. What impact did a particular manufacturing plant, timeframe, supplier, or tooling choice have on the performance of a set of serial numbers associated with it? What quality issues arose during critical usage or environmental conditions experienced by physical products, and how can the products themselves yield more information about the potential root causes of these issues? Examine them. How should marketing and sales teams position upsells and new features to better meet their customers’ needs and enhance their experience with the product? Gather these insights from Digital Twins.

Connections between the Digital Twin and its Digital Thread makes this "Digital Twin Time Machine” useful in a wide variety of applications across organizations. And the unique ability of the Aras platform to manage Digital Twin data in a fully connected way with data from across the product lifecycle upstream makes all of these rich applications for twin data possible.

Aras Innovator can manage as little or as much Digital Thread and Digital Twin information as you choose. A single platform housing them both makes for a rich user experience while navigating and visualizing end-to-end product lifecycle information, adding value to PLM applications from requirements through sustainment across your organization. But the Digital Twin does not just look backward in time. It can help product development engineer new solutions for the future: the work of the palette…


The Palette

Finally, the digital twin as it is realized on the Aras platform is a palette: a model to adjust and add new parameters to in order to envision a new future for your product, your business, and your customers. A digital twin is not only a window on current and past experiences for your product in the field; it allows you to explore and realize future possibilities for product and business strategies.

In Aras Innovator, a Digital Twin is not just a collection of operational data, or snapshots collected in time for the sake of creating a historical record of physical performance in the field. And it’s not just a pilot project limited to one product or one instance of a product for one limited, pre-defined use case. Rather, the Digital Twin in Aras Innovator builds a living, dynamic model of your current products, enhanced with their operational and service information, suitable for the use cases you’ve already defined or for those you develop next.

As a model of the physical world accessible in the virtual world, Digital Twins can be accessed and used for further exploration, analysis, and learning, to inform new maintenance strategies, new business opportunities, and new engineering possibilities. At ACE 2021, you’ll see a demonstration of how companies can apply new operational conditions experienced by the digital twin to past designs representing expected usage conditions, helping maintenance and engineering teams to understand and accommodate for the impact of heretofore unpredictable conditions. Simulation can leverage digital twin data to evaluate how real-world conditions that weren’t accommodated for during design and play out what happens when the as-designed model is subjected to them digitally.

And unlike physical models in the field, the Digital Twin represents an in-flight product that can continue to be iterated on with new design possibilities, in small or in large ways. Do you want to simulate potential new operating conditions on an exact model of a real-world product in the field? The Digital Twin connects with Simulation Management. Do you need to connect new functionality via software updates with a fleet of physical models in the field, to improve their functionality and your customers’ experience? Learn where they’re needed and deploy them. Do you need insights into what future maintenance strategies your business could deploy to make the user experience more seamless? Use the data you find across digital twins to apply and analyze new ways to streamline resource use across the actual maintenance needs your digital twins have been experiencing. Find out how in the blog, How the Digital Twin Supports Maintenance Effectiveness. With the digital twin in Aras, the future possibilities for your business are available to try out on a digital fleet: risk-free, accurate, and connected to the product development teams that need them.


Digital Twin Core: Only Aras

The Digital Twin Core application in Aras Innovator does not limit your team to a narrow pilot project for digital twins. It offers a fully in-production application suitable for any industry’s product offerings. It does not reside on a separate software tool but is an integral part of the Aras Innovator platform, with its data accessible to and visible from the full complement of Aras PLM applications, requirements through maintenance. It fulfills the promise of PLM as a truly end-to-end lifecycle management platform spanning organizations, teams, processes, and data. And, it is a resource to use when exploring the possibilities for your product and your business ecosystem.

Don’t miss all the ways we’ll feature the Digital Twin at this year’s ACE conference, including a 30-minute demonstration of our Digital Twin Core application, Predict and Simulate the Future with the Digital Twin, and a breakout session led by our Digital Twin product manager Graeme Taylor, Digital Twins, Life Control and Beyond. Where are we going?

Mike Lindner