From the editor's desk: Digital twins require digital threads and therein lies the rub

March 2020 News

It’s interesting to see how the use of digital twins to drive production efficiency is maturing thanks to the cost-effective implementation technologies of the IIoT. One of the bottlenecks to wider adoption though is the diversity of data required to create the initial virtual model of a plant, process or product, and then keep it functional.

Since a digital twin is an exact cyber replica of some real-world physical asset (process, product etc.) it must contain all the as-built and operational data that defines the asset in question. The communication framework that supports the flow of data first to build the digital twin and then to keep it functional is known as the digital thread. The thread is therefore fundamental to the twin in the sense that it enables a seamless flow of data through all the disparate systems and silos that exist within a manufacturing organisation, across the asset’s entire lifecycle.

You’ve probably twigged by now that this is where things begin to get messy.

What makes the issue complex is the number and variety of stakeholders involved during the complete asset lifetime. If the asset is a plant then this timeline extends from the initial concept design phase right through to end of life, including all the upgrade phases along the way. Since the stakeholders include the plant owners, engineering and procurement staff, commissioning teams, operators and external contractors, any number of unrelated computer systems could be involved in the design, build and operation of the facility. What this means in practice is that while the benefits of a digital twin are captivating on paper, weaving the digital thread that ties everything together can be extremely complex in practice.

All is not lost though. What’s required of course is a set of compatible standards for data exchange in a manufacturing operation. One such initiative that shows promise is Data EXchange in the Process Industry (DEXPI), which aims to address interoperability between computer-aided engineering and other digital systems in use in the process industry. Contributing editor Gavin Halse examines the subject in more detail in the article in ‘Finding the common thread in process industries’.

The SAIMC has a new structure

It’s lovely to see how the SAIMC has evolved over the last few years to become the ‘voice of automation’ in southern Africa. Now, in a move to represent automation practitioners even more effectively in industry, the organisation has announced its restructuring into the SAIMC NPC, which will be run like a company in accordance with the Kings IV report on good governance. Congratulations to newly appointed CEO Johan Maartens and the first board of directors – everyone at SA Instrumentation & Control looks forward to an even closer working relationship with you in the future. Interested readers will find more detail in the CEO’s first letter in ‘SAIMC: From the office of the CEO’.

Steven Meyer

Editor: SA Instrumentation & Control


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