The concept of the digital twin in A&D was born in the 1970s, when NASA began employing full-scale virtual mock-ups of space capsules to forecast the performance of machines in outer space. First used to remotely monitor, evaluate and diagnose problems with hardware in orbit, digital twin methodologies expanded into a concept with revolutionary potential for industrial applications, including manufacturing.
We now define digital twin as a digital replica of a physical asset, system, process or place that enables its remote monitoring and analysis throughout its lifecycle. Affording the ability to make reliable predictions based on insightful data, digital twins help to improve products, quality control, planning efficiency and processes through simulation. Their benefits include cost savings and a more efficient build process. However, constructing, implementing and maintaining a digital twin strategy can be challenging, and many manufacturers don’t know where to begin.
An essential step in employing a digital twin strategy is identifying a steady process for obtaining reliable data to create it. A blue light 3D scanner quickly collects high-quality data to establish the geometric identity of the digital twin’s real-world counterpart, saving time and money and improving quality control. The success of critical downstream processes relies on accurate measurement data, positioning blue light 3D scanners as an ideal solution. This as-built digital twin provides insight into design and manufacturing processes and supports determinations of additional downstream processes. Digital twin methodologies are also used for virtual assembly to simulate, predict, optimize and verify the assembly and fit of parts before investing in the production and distribution of physical components.
Virtual assembly is a digital twin application driven by 3D scan data, allowing manufacturers to remotely assemble parts and components, validating the design and simulating the finished product before incurring costs. The development is invaluable for the aerospace manufacturing industry, which relies on a global network of remote OEMs and suppliers to collect various parts and components. These manufactured components must fit upon assembly to avoid rework, delays and wasted production time.
Virtual assembly of key components improves efficiencies in aerospace build processes like the mating of wings and fuselages. Wings are often made in a separate location from the fuselage, laying the groundwork for fit-up errors during assembly. With 3D scanners, as-built measurements can take place at various vendor locations during all stages of production, then be used in virtual assembly to ensure proper fit and determine other production details. This digital twin application gives engineers the insight required to save time usually lost to iteration and generating a trend-analysis history.
Applying the digital twin concept in aerospace manufacturing empowers OEMs to remotely share and access data from intricate physical parts, then leverage that data to help prevent problems that occur later in production, avoiding delays and satisfying the assembly’s fit, functionality and quality control parameters. In aerospace applications, tolerances are particularly tight, so each opportunity to validate process accuracy helps to prevent costly mistakes, preserve profit, safety and brand integrity.
As advancements in computational performance and IIoT continue to drive Industry 4.0, digital twin applications will take on many forms and complexities. With as-built digital twins generated by blue light 3D scanners, virtual assembly is one form of the concept that businesses can tap into now.