Digital twins are a key theme at Hannover Messe 2023. On the second day of the show, Technology Record caught up with Accenture's Michael Schollenberger and Avanade's Thor Schueler and Stefan Unterhuber to gain an exclusive insight into how their companies are helping manufacturers to realise business outcomes and achieve their environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals.
As a joint venture between Microsoft and Accenture, Avanade has privileged access to both the Microsoft innovation engine and Accenture’s deep innovation and industry expertise. At Hannover Messe, Avanade’s senior director of innovation Thor Schueler is showcasing how Avanade uses the Microsoft ecosystem to help its clients solve their most pressing transformational business problems by implementing solutions such as digital twins. The manufacturing and energy sectors are his two key focus areas.
“For manufacturers, time to market and the business outcome are key when it comes to investing in new technologies,” he says. “With Microsoft’s ecosystem, we are able to get out of the gate and deliver business value on the digital twin side within as little 12 to 16 weeks. That is fundamental because if you have to wait for two or three years to see return on investment, that’s just not going to cut it. So, we have to get enough investment quickly, we have to get in there and make a difference. The ‘completeness’ of the Microsoft stack, the interaction between the different components and the ease of integration, allows us to do exactly that.”
Avanade also collaborates with Accenture to showcase manufacturing solutions at Accenture’s Industry X Innovation Center in Garching, Germany. Michael Schollenberger, innovation lead at Accenture, leads the demonstrations for clients. “We have topics along the entire value chain of a manufacturing company, around customer interaction, engineering, manufacturing, analytics, artificial intelligence, connected asset management, and more,” said Schollenberger. “We also cover supply chain topics, the connected worker and another very important topic, operational technology security.”
Another key focus at the innovation centre is digital twin technology, particularly the role it plays in industries such as manufacturing and automotive.
When customers in these, or other, industries want to implement digital twin technology, Avanade’s first objective is to establish their desired business outcomes. “Once we’ve done that, we engage with the customer’s technical teams to realise those outcomes,” said Schueler. “The depth of that integration really depends on the client. We have some we work very closely with, where their team members become part of our extended team and there is a lot of ongoing knowledge transfer as we build the twin together.”
Avanade is also well-positioned to advise clients on how they can overcome the challenges they might face during their journey to implement the technology and can help them to develop use cases. In addition, it can help manufacturing organisations to calculate the measurable impact of intelligent twin technology, noting that conformity is key here.
“As you assemble and create products, you have to make sure the execution and installation of all of your components is exactly correct,” he said. “That’s what we call conformity. The idea is that as you build the product, you create its digital twin and this allows you to know what’s in it as the product evolves, for example as you replace parts or carry out service and maintenance work. That record stays alive, so you get traceability throughout the entire product life cycle.”
This record is particularly helpful in instances where products need to be recalled due to faulty parts from manufacturers. “If you have a bunch of manufacturers producing a similar part for your product, how do you know which batch to recall?” asked Schueler. “You want to minimise the product call backs because they’re expensive and damaging to your reputation. Traceability allows us to avoid those problems. If you have a good digital twin of your product, it’s going to be a lot easier for manufacturers.”
Schueler added that digital twins also make it easier for manufacturing companies to test new processes via simulations.
“Testing a process change can be quite expensive; you have to change the line and production positions, and there will be downtime,” he explained. “Sometimes you can’t do it. I work a lot with process manufacturers and chemical plants, and they definitely don’t want to do a test in real life. The digital twin allows you to simulate the impact of a change in the digital world before you actuate that change in the real world. It allows you to simulate various set points and parameters and see what impact the change has on a number of different outcomes, as well as on company productivity and sustainability.”
The Avanade and Accenture demo at Hannover Messe shows how the automotive and manufacturing industries can use digital twins to reduce waste, energy and business costs.
Stefan Unterhuber, director of sustainability Industry X at Avanade, is looking at how the company can help manufacturing clients to reduce, and better report, their emissions. “Digital twin technology can help a lot in reporting and recording what has happened in the past, what is actually happening, and what will happen in the future,” he said. “That helps customers to better report on emissions, water, waste and everything that has to do with manufacturing. Ultimately, once they have this insight, they can use it to reduce waste production, but they can also use it to simulate for future production, and efficiency optimisation.”
Schueler added: “To do this, you have to understand how much energy actually goes into the individual product. You can do that through a digital twin because you know what production process you’re following and the actions that are being performed. The twin models it and then allows you to use that information to calculate the energy consumed for each production process, or for each step, creating a very accurate energy expenditure for each product. Then you can correctly assess your customers’ carbon footprint.
“Not all emissions are easily quantifiable via measurements, though, particularly gas emissions. Digital twins can be incredibly helpful in looking for proxies for those types of emissions. If you have some type of process system measuring pressures, temperatures, flow rates, you can use a digital twin and the modelling to ‘translate’ those measurements into an equivalent emissions profile. This enables you to continuously estimate your carbon output based on readily attainable operational parameters. We call this carbon twinning.”