BC Engineers and Geoscientists Innovation Magazine Cover Story: The Promise Of Digital Twinning
Posted on October 5, 2020
Published in the September / October 2020 Issue of BC Engineers and Geoscientists Innovation Magazine
Digital twins are quickly gaining traction across multiple industries: building and large structure design, transportation, utilities, and HVAC control. Here in BC, a consortium of organizations are working together on the Learning Factory Digital Twin—a digital simulation of traditional factory processes aimed at producing complex aerospace parts.
Most engineers involved in designing and prototyping complex parts and components are familiar with the drawbacks of traditional manufacturing: producing, testing, revising, more testing, and more revisions—and then, more testing. The process tends to be iterative, and often expensive and lengthy. The steps are important for all engineered components, but they’re even more critical if the components themselves are designed to ensure public safety—like, for instance, aerospace components.
That’s why digital twinning—the creation of a simulated digital replica of a physical component that produces real-time operating feedback—shows such great promise. The Digital Technology Supercluster is a BC-based organization—a sort of consortium of organizations that reads like a who’s-who of technology and design in the province—that aims to position BC and Canada as a global leader in digital innovation. The Supercluster, which includes aerospace, mining, forestry, healthcare, data, design, and advanced computing organizations, is spearheading a collection of projects, designed to strengthen BC’s presence on a global scale. It’s one of five national Superclusters that make up the Government of Canada’s Innovation Superclusters Initiative, a program that expects to create more than 50,000 jobs over ten years. One of the key projects of the BC-based Supercluster is The Learning Factory Digital Twin—a $6.6 million digital simulation of traditional factory processes that uses sensors and visualization to create a digital twin of a physical production facility.
The Supercluster brought together Avcorp Industries Inc., AMPD Technologies, UBC, Convergent Manufacturing Technologies Inc., and LlamaZOO Interactive Inc. (all in BC) together with Boeing and Microsoft—each of whom plays a unique role developing the technology, but none of whom could make it happen on their own. Although digital twins could be used in almost any manufacturing situation, this Supercluster project aims to digitize segments of two existing aerospace component production lines, one of which is here in BC, to produce complex Boeing aircraft parts.
What is Digital Twinning?
Conceptually, the first example of twinning may have occurred more than 50 years ago, when an explosion in the oxygen tanks of Apollo 13 in 1970 about 333,000 kilometres above Earth threatened the lives of the three astronauts on board. NASA engineers scrambled to quickly simulate and perfect new strategies and procedures on the ground before they were communicated to the astronauts in space.
Digital twinning essentially takes a real-world physical asset and creates a copy in the digital world using cloud-based data, primarily gathered by physical sensors. A digital twin delivers a visual copy comprised of pure data, which—combined with physics-based simulations—can accurately report on how a component or asset will perform in the real world.
Digital twinning is quickly assuming a major role in manufacturing and design around the world. Tesla, for instance, uses digital twinning to analyze and determine whether its cars are performing as intended. And the Crossrail Ltd. project—a 117-kilometre new railway in the late stages of development in the UK—uses a digital twin of its entire line to assess and optimize the behaviour of components in real-time.
(Above photo) Avcorp is responsible for the assembly of the highly complex Lockheed Martin F-35 Carrier Variant Outboard Wing—a foldable wing for aircraft carrier F-35s. Photo: Avcorp/BAE Systems