Part 4 of the 4 part series: Digital Twins through the full lifecycle

Using a 3D Digital Twin for Manufacturing agility

What is Manufacturing-as-a-Service?

As asserted by 82% of manufacturers, flexibility is critical to growth. Manufacturing-as-a-Service (MaaS) is the ultimate in flexible manufacturing. Let’s drill down on that a little. Imagine a Manufacturing company that owns a global network of manufacturing locations, each with a highly flexible set of capabilities, able to reconfigure at

will, and able to accept a wide variety of orders to manufacture goods in order to take advantage of fluctuations in global supply and demand for materials, pricing, currency, and other types of supply chain risk. Companies will need to achieve a high degree of flexibility, adaptability, and configurability to realize this visionary concept of Manufacturing-as-a-Service. What steps can manufacturers take to get there in measured increments? 


of manufacturers believe flexibility is critical to growth.

Creating a 3D Digital Twin as your visual and digital system of record for viewing, understanding, planning, and monitoring work in digital assets and processes can be a stepping stone.

What is Manufacturing Agility?

Flexibility, adaptability, and configurability are aspects of manufacturing agility. Specifically, agility in manufacturing operations will entail:
    • The ability to make changes quickly, by taking in all relevant information
    • The ability to stay in sync with these changes
    • The ability to simulate (play forward) planned changes to your operation
    • Low cost, effort and complexity to keep your models in sync with the real world
    • As we’ll discuss now, these aspects are achievable by using a 3D Operational Digital Twin.

As we’ll discuss now, these aspects are achievable by using a 3D Operational Digital Twin.

What does 3D visualization in operations have to do with agility?

Agility requires the ability to act quickly, respond quickly, and use data to inform those actions and responses so they are accurate, safe, and rapid. At its core, agility requires a holistic understanding of the manufacturing operation, as described in the Digital Twin Consortium’s recent blogpost by the same name. Below are some key examples in which visual input married with a detailed digital model of the asset or process can improve the speed, safety, and certainty in which we take informed action quickly:

    • Remote monitoring is the most general situation that benefits from having “eyes on” our manufacturing processes, and large equipment centers, as skilled operations management consolidate in larger regional operations centers.
    • Using visual scenario building software, aided by Augmented and Virtual Reality tools allows for investigating, planning, and rehearsal/training of processes and procedures without being there physically
    • Incorporating a 3D visual model into robotic process automation can greatly accelerate planning for turnarounds, setups, and line reconfigurations
    • Optimized inspection, repair and maintenance planning are functions that are more and more
      frequently done with the aid of a 3D Digital Twin By carrying a mobile version of a 3D Digital
    • By carrying a mobile version of a 3D Digital Twin during field work, operations can perform in situ parts ordering, service request ordering – i.e., rather than waiting until personnel return to their desk or operations room, they can make requests at the scene.
    • Closing the loop on other observations in the field, personnel can use a 3D Operational Digital Twin to write-back to any authorized transaction-based system – when data observed in the field are visibly inaccurate, notes taken can be attached visually to the equipment, tag, or circuit affected. Moreover, data discrepancies can be immediately rectified between the physical asset and its records in the Asset Management.

What each of these scenarios have in common is that:

  1. they benefit from the ability to carry out analysis and planning remotely, without physical presence (adds speed, precision/accuracy, and safety).
  2. where the operations change frequently (esp. manufacturing in small batches, made-to-order, or constantly adjusting conditions), this also depends on a robust MMOC capability
  3. and thus, when the actions are eventually carried out, they are more accurate and quick (because we avoid errors because of all the preplanning and verification), AND, because we provide access to all the information that was used in the planning at their fingertips, the notepad / write back while they are in the field observing it  (i.e., ability to generate a request for parts, is just one example).

As a result, when we take the physical out of the equation, we reduce the time needed to be there in person, leading to the further benefits of improved safety, and lower carbon intensity (by lowering energy spent on transportation).

Start with an Operational 3D Digital Twin Partner?

The scenarios and examples described earlier can be enabled using a 3D Digital Twin, but only a True-to-life 3D Operational Digital Twin, as described in our previous post “True-to-Life 3D Operational Digital Twins”. That is because when teams put their trust and judgement into a model replica, it must be:


  • an accurate and true to life system of record
  • connected to other operational systems of record in real time
  • Available 24×7 for use

The Take-Away

As manufacturers strive for the vision of Manufacturing-as-a-Service, they must build in an agile mindset. Some say this will not happen until they achieve software-configured production lines, so they can incorporate Continuous Integration / Continuous Development (CI/CD) flexibility of software development. That road is fraught with dangers as discussed. But a more realistic, near-term goal would be to use tools like an immersive, operational 3D Digital Twin to minimize the time it takes to make changes and adjust their operations to new requirements, new product types, verify and rehearse (simulate) planned changes to reduce errors, speed up changes, and ultimately, make tangible progress toward that goal.