Elly Yates-Roberts |
Recessionary headwinds, energy costs and sustainability – these are three key challenges facing today’s manufacturers, according to Avanade’s senior director of Industry X and digital twin lead Chris Lowndes, and Barry Maybank, senior director for manufacturing advisory in UK, Ireland and Europe.
“Manufacturers continue to strive for a competitive advantage and new revenue streams, with an increasing need for resilience and optimisation in operations,” says Maybank. “At Avanade and Microsoft, we are seeing increasing demand from our manufacturing clients for help, advice and solutions across these key areas.”
According to Maybank, these clients are looking to increase quality, speed and efficiencies in production processes; drive greater agility and resilience to respond to crises and changing demands; develop more sustainable manufacturing, with a drive to net zero; and upskill workforces.
“There is now a unanimous understanding from IT, business and operations teams that digital tools, technologies and information are key to transforming manufacturing and meeting these needs,” says Maybank. “We help our customers with practical advice that builds on the digitalisation that we saw accelerate through Covid-19. However, we now have an increased focus on connected and intelligent manufacturing. We refer to this as ‘smart digital manufacturing’.”
But for manufacturers to see real value in the form of cost reductions, new revenue models, progress towards sustainability goals or a happier, more engaged workforce, they need it to happen quickly. “Our speed to value is a key aspect of why clients adopt our approach,” says Lowndes.
Avanade uses digital twins to enable this speed to value. “We are able to create intelligent digital replicas of anything from physical manufacturing assets, resources and processes to the finished products in everyday use,” says Lowndes. “These digital twins create an abstract solution space, where data and artificial intelligence are deployed as problem-solving optimisers. Unlike their physical twin, digital twins can be used to replicate, simulate, test, alter or even destroy, in order to uncover hidden insights that the physical twin could never reveal.”
For example, Lowndes highlights that a focus on reducing energy consumption will drive value not only by lowering production overheads, but also by decreasing carbon emissions. “A solution based on digital twins allows the client operations team to drill down and optimise energy consumption, even at the level of an individual machine or process step, whilst showing tangible progress towards overall business sustainability goals.”
With the manufacturing landscape constantly evolving due to external pressures and technologies like those from Avanade being updated to meet these needs, manufacturers are adjusting from product-centric to service-centric business models. “This not only improves experiences for partners and customers, but it also creates new revenue streams,” says Maybank. “Differentiation and advantage can only go so far at the physical product level, so the real opportunity lies in combining products and services, which gives you smart connected products.
“Smart connected products are leading to an innovation in new services that are software-driven and powered by data and intelligence. We are helping manufacturing organisations to rethink their processes and digitally reinvent core business operations, products, employee and customer experiences and even new business models.”
Lowndes believes that smart connected products involve a radical shift to longer-term services revenues. “These new services can be as simple as a consumer tracking their use of a given product, or as complex as notifying a supplier of a future maintenance need in advance, without any human intervention,” he says.
However, the complex network of relationships between finished smart connected products in the field, their owners or operators, and the supply chain and manufacturing business operations which support them, can be overwhelming. “This is where digital twins play their role,” says Lowndes. “We can model that complexity such that each physical product has its own digital twin, and those complex relationships are modelled around these twins. This approach enables a wide variety of different business models to share a common core architecture, enabling a variety of business use cases to be more easily deployed.”
According to Accenture’s Technology Vision 2021 report, 90 per cent of executives agree that, in order to be agile and resilient, their organisations need to fast forward their digital transformation with the cloud at the core. “With this in mind, digital twins are becoming a key enabler of the ‘smart digital manufacturing’ movement by blending the digital and physical and delivering tangible ROI,” says Maybank. “They will be key to realising the vision of the manufacturing industry that we are all striving for.”
This article was originally published in the Winter 2022 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.