Sustainability has become the holy grail for many businesses across all sectors, as society begins to wake up to the environmental crisis and the need for urgent action, writes Oliver Bird, Business Development Director at Lanner.

”Digital twins and predictive simulation enable organisations to test new ways of doing things in great detail but all in a risk-free, virtual world.”

As well as the obvious ethical argument for easing the strain on the planet, ‘going green’ has clear business benefits in terms of brand reputation, increased efficiency, reduced waste and resulting cost savings.

The technology industry is already playing a key role in supporting organisations to reduce their carbon footprint, whether enabling remote working, automating routine processes or delivering renewable energy sources.

Along with artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things (IoT), predictive simulation and digital twin modelling are increasingly being used by companies not just to streamline processes and improve project management but also to help them work in a more sustainable way.

What are digital twins?

As the name indicates, a digital twin is a virtual replica of existing or proposed processes, business functions, offices, manufacturing plant lines or entire factories. Using this simulation software, a company can design, visualise and experience how new equipment, ways of operating or other innovations will perform.

This modelling allows accurate assessment of such innovations’ impact, testing of multiple ‘what if?’ scenarios and the prediction of potential problems, all in a theoretical environment – before any investment, installation or construction is started in the real world.

The detailed, interactive visualisation provided by digital twins offers the scope for complex levels of testing and analysis. This provides invaluable data which can help companies make better business decisions around capital investments, resource planning and process design.

It gives unprecedented insight and clarity to inform crucial decisions which could shape the future direction of a business, enabling them to be made without affecting production or supply chain delivery while minimising the risk of costly mistakes.

In a nutshell, digital twins and predictive simulation enable organisations to test new ways of doing things in great detail but all in a risk-free, virtual world.

This software provides the opportunity for businesses to trial all manner of cutting-edge technology, including those aimed at enhancing project management, boosting efficiency and achieving their sustainability goals.

Do digital twins make smarter business?

More and more companies are recognising the value of harnessing digital twin simulation to support important decisions around their design, manufacturing, business operations and customer services functions.

Last year BMW revealed its use of digital twin software to virtually build the ‘factory of the future’. The simulation incorporated all the multiple complexities of one of the automotive giant’s 31 car manufacturing plants.

The project involved creating a ‘twin’ of every element of the complete factory model - including the buildings, equipment, robots and assembly parts - to support virtual factory planning, autonomous robots, predictive maintenance and big data analytics.

It is designed to open up even greater opportunities for faster innovation, reduced planning times, improved flexibility, greater precision and optimal efficiency.

At Lanner, we recently helped Safran Aircraft Engines direct millions of pounds worth of investment by developing a flexible model to help improve operational performance at their primary facility south of Paris. The project focused on five key areas:

  • Industrial and operational organisation
  • Machinery and equipment
  • Machining processes
  • Health, safety and environment
  • Shop floor digitisation

We developed a simulation focusing on quality and lead time in order for Safran to develop and test scenarios in a risk-free environment. The results of which have provided an evidence base for significant investment.

As well as the automotive and manufacturing industries, an ever-growing range of sectors are using predictive digital twinning to enhance their business.

Companies ranging from global communications networks to engineering firms, international animal feed suppliers to wind turbine manufacturers have used it to design factories, optimise production, plan business growth, explore the Industrial IoT and implement smart technology.

Achieving sustainability using digital twins

Adopting a more sustainable approach to realising business objectives encourages a focus on maximising resources while improving long-term viability.

Greater sustainability also boosts profits, according to research by manufacturers’ organisation Make UK and energy company E.ON undertaken just before the pandemic. They found that 30% of manufacturers were investing in energy efficiency measures, with 40% reporting increased profits and 30% reporting increased competitiveness as a result.

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Businesses can make significant financial and environmental gains by switching to renewable energy sources to heat, light and ventilate their offices or factories and power their technological equipment or machinery.

Companies are also seeking to save energy and cut costs by reducing their materials usage and waste while increasing recycling and reuse.

At Lanner, we’ve found that digital technology and the IoT can help improve efficiency and reduce costs, such as the use of predictive maintenance to increase the life-span of machinery and equipment. AI opens up further scope to automate repetitive or dangerous processes, to create a more streamlined, safer working environment.

Reducing risk using digital twins

To help businesses decide what sustainable innovations will work for them, digital twin modelling offers the chance to assess the options, identify the risks and calculate the potential return on their investment before committing to any radical changes.

This predictive simulation can also support them to inform, manage and communicate their financial, social and environmental impact, risks, opportunities and obligations.

For instance, it can measure and analyse the use of resources such as water, energy and materials across complex systems. This can identify how efficient or inefficient processes are at conserving resources across a company’s entire operations, how they affect each other and how to realise more sustainable and cost-effective performance.

Digital twins are a powerful tool in helping an organisation to reach its energy efficiency, waste reduction and decarbonisation targets. Through its rich visualisation of data, it can pinpoint opportunities to introduce changes that will drive productivity in a sustainable way.

Digital twins empower exciting opportunities

Confronted with the spiralling costs of fuel, energy, labour and materials, every business wants to find ways of improving efficiency and saving money. If that goes hand in hand with greater sustainability and enhanced social responsibility, it’s a win-win.

At a time when increasingly sophisticated AI, IoT, digital technology and cloud-based platforms open up ever-widening horizons, having a way of testing new ideas in a risk-free virtual world is an attractive prospect for any industry.

By removing the potential for costly mistakes, digital twins provide a way for all types of organisations to embrace innovation, boost efficiency and progress the journey to sustainability.

About the author

Oliver Bird is a Business Development Director at digital twin specialists Lanner, specialising in modelling real world assets and processes into actionable insights for better business operations and supply chains.