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Digital Twins for automated composite manufacturing
The aerospace manufacturing and production industries are increasingly challenged to be more competitive, and do more with less. To be able to comply with higher production rates, affordability and constant quality, high levels of automation are required for current-day manufacturing processes. This results in more parts meaning more process data to control and keep track of while the number of operators at the production floor has not grown.
The challenge is to be able to maintain overview of individual process steps, part quality and status of equipment. Advanced monitoring and inspection of automated processes by a Digital Twin (DT) of the physical manufacturing environment could help an operator to filter all the available data supporting timely detection of production flaws, first-time right production, product quality, and delivery reliability. Additionally, all the collected data can be used for many more purposes:
• Design and optimise the production facilities and manufacturing processes
• Optimise maintenance
• Digital threads, digital product passports, and managing data on behalf of certification
The Digital Twin compares the actual situation, going-on real-time process and product information of the physical manufacturing environment, against the expected and simulated behaviour and properties, thereby signalling deviations beyond thresholds. The DT raises situational awareness through dedicated dashboards and advanced interactive visualisation technology (e.g., VR, AR via handhelds, information projection on PT), enabling and supporting operator and mechanics to monitor, understand, inspect, adjust and repair. A DT can collect and organise data and statistics from processes, detect trends, and analyses data across process runs, to support process optimisation and condition-based predictive maintenance. The Digital Twin facilitates digitals threads and passports of the products and machinery.
What did we do?
NLR developed a Digital Twin ecosystem and implemented this as test case on our Resin Transfer Moulding RTM manufacturing environment for validating and testing. By connecting actual live data from the industrial OT/IT technology and machine communication protocols, and a tailored integrated mix of IT technologies (e.g. AI/machine learning, data analytics, big data, etc.) and data sets, a digital replica (DT) of the physical RTM manufacturing environment was realised.
The Graphical User Interface (GUI) of the DT and added handhelds/tablets to the work environment that advises the operator not only when on the production floor but also when the operator is taking a coffee break, have created a powerful “smart assistant”. Besides, the Digital Twin is available in any place over the world remotely, in (near) real-time. It only visualises the relevant data in each phase of the manufacturing process and issues alarms or warnings which are triggered based on defined thresholds and predictions by the Digital Twin.