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The I-Connect007 Editorial Team spoke with Aegis' Michael Ford to explore his vision and reality of the digital twin as a communication mechanism.
Nolan Johnson: Michael, what is your current definition of digital twin?
Michael Ford: My gut reaction was to say that any computer program is, in a sense, a digital twin. If you’re running Microsoft Word, you’re using a digital twin. That’s because what you see is what you get; you print a document out and it looks exactly the way you saw it on the screen. But that’s really simplifying the real intent of the term “digital twin” and why it was created, which is to allow people to understand how the digital world can be useful in reducing cost and waste in the physical world, reducing physical commitments through the use of digital tools, including product design, manufacturing process preparation, planning, execution of a machine, line and factory, and watching a project evolve end to end in the digital domain. The physical product manufactured and in the market is exactly as you envisioned in your design brief. Just like your printout, the physical result looks the same as you saw on screen.
Johnson: In that sense, we’ve been working with digital twin ideas since the very beginning of the ECAD industry back in the late ‘70s, given that the original idea was to design and simulate electronically, so that we didn’t have to use a breadboard.
Ford: Yes, exactly.
Johnson: When you’re out in the field now, are you running into different interpretations of digital twin? You already pointed out that anything could be called a digital twin. Within our industry, though, are there variations of the term?
Ford: There are. I think the term “digital twin” has become a buzzword.
There are those who are seeking to use the digital twin as a way of solving problems in ways that have not been possible before. Here is where a multitude of digital twin applications become interesting. Originally, digital twin started with design, with an afterthought given to manufacturing. We wanted to have a viewable 3D model, for example, of a car without having to build something made from clay, which sounds a little bit old-fashioned today, right?
So why not model it in three dimensions on the screen, to be able to see and understand how all the components fit and interact, to model how everything works together? This is where the digital twin first became famous, but now we’ve moved on to other applications, including getting into manufacturing itself, where we would like to be able to see, in a digital sense, exactly how, and how well, every new product would be made.
This is the next logical step, and just the start of a long road of future digital twin applications. You ultimately may have thousands of digital twin-based applications for things such as capacity or capability planning, quality yield management, as well as solutions with narrower scopes, such as the understanding of how materials are used that affect the performance of the end-product, the operation of a certain machine or process, the variation of spacing between electronic and mechanical components and their effect on heat transfer, rigidity etc. All these are different examples of applications that exist where digital twin solutions are coming.
To read this interview, which appeared in the August 2021 issue of SMT007 Magazine, click here.