Voith optimizes physical assets with the help of their digital twins, thereby opening up new business opportunities
Mechanical engineering affects the digital imaging of its analog world. Every component, every product, every unit and soon perhaps entire systems are assigned to a digital twin inside the cloud. Voith is shaping this transformation – and thus generating added value for its customers.
Voith engineers make decisions by ear, literally. Today they are more likely to examine, for example, turbines in clients’ power plants using a laptop rather than industrial tools. The sounds coming from the units are a decisive criterion. Experts at Voith can tell whether an obstacle has become lodged in the intake or if there is bearing damage just from the sound of the running turbines. This is the result of a learning process that takes place over many years and through many on-site assignments.
With the equipment of Voith, hydropower plants continuously feed the "soundtrack" of the unit into an analysis system in the cloud in real time. The algorithms process a constantly growing quantity of data and learn whether a noise sounds normal. Evaluating further data from other sources enables plant operators to decide if preventive maintenance is worthwhile. In the ideal scenario, a maintenance appointment is requested from the service department to avoid damage that no one else could have remotely predicted at that point of time. The power plant, together with all its components, is completely transparent – as a digital twin in the cloud.
Workshop of the industry 4.0 – welcome to the cloud
The cloud is to digitalization what once was the workshop in the era of industrialization. It is the virtual location where the material master data and the histories of components, units and entire systems are collected. Thus, the cloud is the place where this data can be linked in real time. Voith is creating digital images of hardware – steel is getting smart, and machines are speaking with the cloud.
As components can be identified by their digital twin in the cloud, they communicate with one another, interact with each other and always have all the important documents available in a computer-readable format. Data components that are obtained from a unit log and migrate to the cloud generate new operating data that creates a history of the component. Employees, the machines between one another or even artificial intelligence can interpret this data and correlate it with other data sources.
Driving R&D with the help of digital twins
Voith uses this data in the development of new products and services to simulate tests with digital prototypes, and consequently save time and money. Over time, systems and artificial intelligence become more efficient and accurate in their analyses. Examples would be the previously mentioned interpretation of the so called "soundtrack" of turbines or the real-time monitoring of processes in paper manufacturing. From the data provided by sensors in the units, cloud systems can suggest appropriate new settings to the operator for optimizing the various systems.
The digital twins not only reflect the geometry and structure of their analog originals, they also mirror the behavior of the components and the process. They fundamentally change businesses and pave new ways of work. For example, research and development will rely to a much greater degree on simulations using digital twins and less on trials with real prototypes.
The path there is ambitious. Let us consider paper machines again: Some can be composed of tens of thousands of parts. With more than five thousand paper machines globally, one third of which is made by Voith. They are generating what is called big data today. If the data sets are standardized via digital twins, the entire unit can network. Soon, in the extended value-added chain, units will be imaged in the cloud.
Voith will continue adding value to its mechanical engineering equipment bringing new digital ventures like the digital twin to fruition – for components and systems alike. Advancing its industries is an important goal to tap new opportunities and increase the life cycle and efficiency of its customers’ facilities.