Digital twinning: continuous inspection through bits and bytes
Production processes, the deflections of concrete or metal structures, the movements of wind turbines: with sensors, you can track almost everything in real time. With sensors on different parts of a single construction, machine or process, you can create a 'digital twin' - a digital copy of the original. This opens up unprecedented new possibilities for inspection and continuous monitoring. Ron Meijer, Eric Laan and Perttu Immonen of Kiwa explain.
Kiwa is continuously working on new innovative ways of servicing the Kiwa customer. The rise of technological possibilities is changing the way Kiwa is doing its testing, inspection and certification business. “We are continuously trying and testing out new ways to do our business, together with our customers, that is the way we are innovating at Kiwa,” says Eric Laan, innovator at the Corporate ICT department.
“At Kiwa we are working on a program called Flow! to harmonize and standardize business processes, and to support these processes with modern applications. For asset health management and inspections Kiwa is using Dynamics 365 Field Service. This cloud-based technology from Microsoft, which is enhanced with specialized third-party solutions, will provide Kiwa the possibility to innovate and create new services, like digital twins and real-time asset monitoring,” says Ron Meijer, Corporate ICT Director at Kiwa.
Mapping wear and safety
And those are just a few of many examples. More and more structures, large buildings and wind turbines also have digital twins: digital copies of physical assets to which information is continuously added through onsite inspections combined with continuous measurement of sensors on the physical object. “In a digital twin you can see the realtime condition of any physical asset. Using digital twins you can very accurately estimate whether a structure is still safe under load, or when maintenance is required on a wind turbine,” says Perttu Immonen, business development manager at Kiwa. “By means of mapping, you can even identify which parts of an installation or infrastructure are subject to wear or great pressure. A local repair or reinforcement can offer a pre-emptive solution. With different inspection techniques we can also pick up hairline cracks that are barely visible to the naked eye. Additionally, for a more refined image, you can do an inspection using a drone with a high-resolution camera. The images provided by this ‘eye in the sky’ are added to the digital twin and artificial intelligence can then analyse the data for cracks or other irregularities."
Complex processes, clear visualisation
The digital twin is also brilliant at simplifying complex systems. “An installation in a factory sometimes consists of 20 different technologies, each with its own data, software and user interface. So you have to keep an eye on dozens of systems as an operator. We can combine all of those interfaces into one clear dashboard with inspection results: the digital twin within Kiwa Connect, our user platform,” says Immonen.
Kiwa not only brings different data points together clearly, but also makes it easy for people to use the information, even if they don’t have the underlying in-depth technological knowledge. “You can open the digital twin on your laptop or tablet while standing next to the machine. Something as simple as a red glowing part on your screen indicates where the problem is.”
Using virtual reality (VR) takes it a step further. “By wearing VR glasses or using mobile devices, a quality controller can walk through a factory and see through an added layer of augmented reality that the production boiler in the corner has and upcoming inspections or the inspection results are visualized. In this way, a digital twin helps customers to better understand their own processes.” In a previous article we have explained more about the application of VR and AR.
Perttu Immonen: "By laser and image scanning we can map the real world environment to a 3D model."
Inspection without downtime
Taking a sensor-guided virtual dive into a beer kettle sounds relatively simple. But digital twins can also help you explore every corner of the production vessel of an oil refinery or the generator of a power plant or any other place where a human inspector couldn’t easily access – even while they’re in full use. “A digital twin is, for example, excellent for reviewing inspection and process information together. All the information from the internal sensors to inspection measurements is combined to create a 3D visualisation. Using colour, you can monitor which parts of the process are more critical than others. Red parts can indicate there’s a lot of corrosion, green parts have not yet been affected and yellow parts are in between. And because the pressure and flow of liquids in installations can accelerate the corrosion process, analysing the corrosion patterns can help optimise the internal flow and/or pressure to reduce the risk of corrosion.”
The digital twin can be used for monitoring, inspecting and maintaining installations. “If you know which parts need to be replaced when, you can plan that optimally, with minimal or even no downtime – and you can also estimate this more accurately. Knowing the exact status of the installations means you can avoid expensive repairs and unplanned downtime, too.”
Modern asset management
More importantly: the use of digital twins enables Kiwa to up its game - from incidental inspection to the continuous monitoring of assets, offering valuable data and insights for its customers. Laan: “Using digital twin technology we can bring our customers very accurate and highly detailed insights for predictive maintenance. In fact, digital twins are indispensable in modern asset management. Many factory processes are extremely complex and interconnected. You quickly lose the big picture. A digital twin gives you the overview and control you need, providing you with greater predictability and exactly the right information. Leading to better decisions, less unplanned standstill, optimised maintenance and more safety. With a digital twin, the sudden problems of structures will be a thing of the past.”
Buildings, animals, people!
Digital twins are on the rise – in every sector and every part of our lives. In Sweden, robot dogs roam construction sites continuously scanning buildings under construction, collecting data to create digital twins of the buildings. For recycling purposes, data about the materials used are also recorded. In high-tech farms, new generations of livestock farmers can see the condition and production of each individual animal using digital twins of their dairy cattle. In medical science, even human digital twins are used – for example, to monitor blood values and digestive processes.