industrial assets, digital twin, asset maintenance

When it comes to the things in life that require regular maintenance—your car, your household appliances, even yourself—it’s better to know when the next maintenance is needed than to guess and get it wrong. Getting it wrong in these cases could lead to a car that needs a more expensive repair, an appliance that needs replacing or in the case of personal health, a doctor’s visit you didn’t anticipate.

Maintaining industrial assets is no different. Manufacturers go through a great deal of time and investment to ensure that their operations are seamless, and a big part of manufacturing operations is ensuring that their long-term assets, like property, plant and equipment (PPE), are operational. With the proper application and processes in place, there are technologies that can improve PPE asset management, which can in turn improve the overall manufacturing process.

Asset Maintenance Over the Years

Asset management and maintenance have evolved some over the years. Here are a few examples:

Maintenance with Paper: Years ago I was working as an auto mechanic. We had several volumes of the Chilton Repair book. The Chilton manual was the encyclopedia of car repair, we needed one for each year, and my boss, having been a mechanic for nearly 30 years, had a wall full of them. Lots of repair knowledge in those books. Can you imagine doing this today? Probably not. 

Maintenance with Microfilm: Another time, I was at Sears ordering a part for my dryer. They had all their parts cataloged on microfilm, so the clerk and I looked at a dozen or so until we found the right model, year, and section to order the part. Now I can just go online and find my part that way.

Digital Maintenance: Last week, I was at a car dealer having some work done, and all they did was scan the car’s barcoded VIN number to pull up the entire list of all repairs done at the dealer over the last 10 years, parts too. What my car dealer had was a digital twin of my car’s repairs. At home I have a 2-inch thick folder with the same data. The Chilton repair books were 3 inches thick, and to have every parts list of every appliance sold by Sears, well, that would be a room full of manuals. 

What is a Digital Twin?

A digital twin is a digital representation of a product and some or all of its history (genealogy). For example, the history of maintenance for my car is a small part of the vehicle’s history. However, if its history were tracked from the very start of the production process, you’d have a much more complete view. Touching upon the life of every component, tracking every operation, operator and machine that transformed the bill of materials into a finished car would be a full digital history. You can imagine the value of having such a history readily available.

I can see the entire schematic of my car’s engine, my dryer or even my refrigerator. This pairing of worlds can also allow for the analysis of data and monitoring of systems to identify problems before they even occur. Knowing what is going on in a shop machine could prevent downtime. For prototyping, we could develop new opportunities and even plans for the future by using simulations.

So, what’s in it for me?

My car dealer knows the part that was installed; the Service attendant can connect to my car’s repair history online and even alert me when there is a recall. I know that this works because I had a little trouble with an airbag, and there was an issue with my air conditioning compressor. And they didn’t need to keep my car for weeks to figure that out.

With your product’s digital twin, you can protect yourself from part knockoffs. That is where a black market third party copies your item, makes a cheaper version, and then sells it as yours. 

Using a Digital Twin to Maintain Your Industrial Assets

Asset monitoring, usage analysis, predictive maintenance, and repair history should all be important for an active maintenance department. A dynamic digital representation of an industrial asset, one that enables companies to better understand and predict the performance of their machines and find new revenue streams, could change the way their business operates. A unique asset ID is used to link all asset-specific data.

Product simulations, prototyping, as designed BOM, as ordered BOM, as built BOM, as shipped, and as currently configured in the field, are examples of the data that can be maintained using a digital twin. The same can be said about finished goods in the field.

Two ways that QAD is currently working to support digital twin technology is by, first, connecting the history of installed base items from the ERP. Production Execution can capture both operator and machine-specific information during the production process that can then be used for its digital twin. The second is by connecting the production floor’s equipment back into the Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) module. Equipment monitoring can alert the EAM module to a maintenance requirement and support the history of all maintenance activity.

QAD has also introduced a data lake technology that allows for the storage of information that can be used to build up the data associated with an asset. Quality and support call records, for example, can be maintained for configurable items using the Service Support module (SSM). The current configuration of your shipped item is maintained by using the SSM to record the replacement of any component item after the item is in the field. With QAD’s maturity model, manufacturers can define where they stand today as it relates to the attributes for traceability in order to form the attributes of their digital twins and add efficiency to their day-to-day operations.

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