How Does a Digital Twin Help Improve Worker Safety?
A digital twin can be a valuable tool in many industrial businesses for a number of reasons. Understanding how an asset will behave under different circumstances, monitoring its condition and quickly pinpointing any issues is important to worker safety. This works in several ways:
Reducing Time In Hazardous Conditions
Digital twins help improve worker safety by minimizing the time humans spend in hazardous environments. This is accomplished through more efficient planning of inspection and maintenance activities. Let’s dive into some examples.
When there is a faulty valve or a valve is due for replacement, it would be quick and easy if there were only a few valves to look through. But today’s complex asset will have hundreds, if not thousands of valves. So finding that needle in the haystack is often the challenging part. With sophisticated 3D digital twin capabilities offered in solutions like V-Suite, time in the field is cut dramatically. An executive from a Top 5 global Oil & Gas company puts it this way: “An hour in V-Suite is like 8 hours in the field.” Less time in hazardous contexts translates into safer worker conditions.
“An hour in V-Suite is like 8 hours in the field.”
By leveraging a digital twin to plan ahead from headquarters, one can identify a multitude of part replacements that are needed in a given area within the facility. Additionally, one can have a better understanding of what additional needs have to be considered – scaffolding for example – before getting on site. Add it all up and you can see how digital twin technology reduces the back and forth between offices and the industrial assets that are being managed from them. This not only helps to reduce time, energy and money on transportation, but it also means less time for the maintenance worker to be in potentially hazardous conditions.
Avoiding Hazards Through Preventive Maintenance
Because a digital twin is a digitized version of a physical asset and data is often exchanged by the systems in real time, monitoring an asset for preventative maintenance is greatly simplified and improved. This works because important areas of functionality are fit with IoT sensors, which feed data to a processing system that updates the digital twin of the physical asset. Component maintenance schedules are optimized because their exact condition is being constantly monitored and any repair or adjustments can be made before problems occur.
Preventing Dangerous Failures
The preventative maintenance discussed above circumvents potential catastrophic failures that, if they were to occur, might put workers in harm’s way. Modeling otherwise hidden elements makes it much faster to discover and correct what would otherwise be an unseen issue that could cause an accident or injury. The sensor structure also allows workers to view a single issue from multiple vantage points, creating faster and more precise solutions to ensure assets are in their safest, most optimal working order. Digital twins can also monitor environmental factors and trigger safety measures if outside hazards are impeding an asset’s ability to function safely. This allows businesses to avoid accidents and improve safety outcomes by preventing issues before they occur.
Minimizing Human-Machinery Interactions
Managing environmental hazards is just one way digital twins reduce human time in the field. Minimizing human-asset interactions in other ways as well is a tremendous advantage of digital twin technology. By identifying any unseen issues exactly at the source, the amount of time workers must spend interacting with potentially dangerous asset components is greatly minimized. In some cases, digital twins work alongside artificial intelligence (AI) and robots to repair assets which would have required hands-on troubleshooting otherwise.
Creating Safer Systems
Digital twins may be used in the research and development stages of an asset’s life cycle, resulting in safer machines, systems and physical structures. The spatial data rendered by a digital twin is also helpful in designing the systems that will operate within new machines and structures. This data-rich, robust design environment is ideal for fixing issues and creating the safest possible structures and systems before an asset ever hits the market.
Enhanced Training Opportunities
A digital twin enhances training opportunities for employees whose job sees them working on more hazardous components of the physical asset. While some industries already use simulations for worker training, a digital twin is far superior by virtue of being a completely replicated virtual reality environment. This greatly enhanced experience – and the ability to see elements that would have otherwise been hidden (or highly dangerous to access) increases a worker’s knowledge base in a safe and controlled environment. Employees are also better prepared and monitored when they do have to navigate dangerous mechanical components or structures.
Digital twins are becoming more common in the industrial and construction sectors and its impact on worker safety is already compelling. Applications of digital twin technology in the worker safety space will only grow, especially as digital twins are increasingly used in the R&D phase of system and structure creation. It is not unreasonable to project that digital twins may soon become the gold standard for employee training and safety programs in the coming years as more and more industries look to leverage this technology.