The US is facing a massive skilled labor shortage. Just last year, 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs due to various factors, including the persistent COVID-19 pandemic.
The manufacturing industry was hit especially hard. Considering a good quarter (26.6%) of the labor force is 65 and older, and most of them are retiring or getting ready to retire. Without fresh blood coming in, it means that the skill gap in manufacturing is widening by the year.
However, we shouldn’t start panicking just yet. Thanks to digital twin technology, alleviating this problem is not only a possibility, but a very optimistic probability.
When Robots Take Over
One of the ways DT tech can alleviate the said problem is through extensive use of automation. Robots are no strangers to factories, and the manufacturing process as a whole, but, when coupled with digital twins, they can reach new heights of efficiency.
This is due to the digital twins’ predictive nature. DT technology helps manufacturers create accurate replicas of their production processes, identify key bottlenecks, and then resolve them with automation.
The ability of digital twins to simulate with great accuracy the processes of manufacturing lets you test out which automation processes produce the best results, as well as allow you to predict the extent of automation you’re able to implement.
Needless to say, implementing an automation solution removes the need for an overwhelming workforce instantly. Essentially, digital twins and automation turn manufacturing from a numbers game to a game involving careful planning and strategizing.
Another area where a digital twin is extremely useful is the prototyping stage. One of the greatest assets of digital twin technology is that it provides real-time data and feedback, allowing for on-the-fly adjustments, enabling you to perfect your concept before even the first prototype has been built.
Being able to create such accurate digital prototypes eliminates the need for a vast number of highly-skilled analysts and designer teams working on a single project. With a digital twin, you can have a smaller team of specialized professionals achieve what a much larger number of such skilled laborers did in the past in the same amount of time.
Training in Virtual Reality
Of course, that being said, such technology now requires a whole different skill set than before. Luckily, the coming generations are all basically born with a computer in their hands, and you can rely on their tech-savviness to pay off greatly when working with this advanced technology.
Hiring tech-savvy generations have other benefits too. Namely, the onboarding process is a great deal easier, and the transfer of knowledge from older individuals to younger workers is not entirely necessary. Your more experienced labor doesn’t have to devote a great amount of time teaching the newbies the ropes, but instead, focus on their own work.
And this is a great boon, considering knowledge transfer in the workplace can be a little difficult. This study from 2018 shows that $47 million is lost due to inefficient knowledge transfer and sharing. It also states that the lack of knowledge sharing has a major impact on project delays, as 66% of such cases experience delays of at least a week.
However, thanks to digital twin technology, this whole thing can be easily avoided. Due to its accurate predictive nature and its faithful replication of real-world assets, digital twin tech can help create new and improved training regimens for new workers.
This is where virtual reality and augmented reality come into play.
Using a digital twin, you’re able to create very precise simulations of the workplace. Just like pilots practice their flying skills in a simulator, you can apply the same concept to your factory floor. This way, you can train workers using software and in safe and controlled environments, thus preventing risks of damaging your equipment and injuring your workers.
This method of teaching is, in fact, extremely efficient, sporting a whopping 75% retention rate. Workers trained this way retain knowledge 4 times faster than those taught through traditional means and exhibit 4 times more focus compared to e-learning.
Optimizing the Workplace
Besides introducing automation and helping to train your workers, digital twins can go a long way when it comes to optimizing your workplace.
We already mentioned that DTs could be used to replicate processes, and this same feature can be applied to your entire operation. Using a digital model of your factory lets you allow you to strategically divide and apply what limited workforce you have to maximum efficiency.
DTs also enable you to enact predictive maintenance of your equipment. With predictive (and prescriptive) maintenance, you’ll be able to anticipate equipment breakdowns, and perform maintenance with limited staff before the breakdown occurs, thus increasing the uptime of your facility.
In addition to predicting failures, you can also quickly and precisely identify the root causes of those issues. This way, you can apply preventative measures to avoid these problems in the future, again preventing downtimes and increasing production.
Things to Consider when Implementing DT Tech
Naturally, implementing such advanced technology comes with its set of challenges and considerations.
Firstly, you must think of the goal of such implementation. What are you trying to achieve with digital twins? What parts of your manufacturing process require attention, and what parts of your operation are you trying to improve.
Once you’ve got your goal down, you’ve got to find the right software. Finding the right supplier of digital twin technology is vital, as this technology doesn’t come cheap, and you’ll have a better time with it if you nail it the first time.
Next, focus on security. Due to the fact most of this tech is digital, you’ll need strong encryption in place and excellent cybersecurity overall to avoid cases of industrial espionage through hacker attacks.
Finally, plan for scale. As you begin to modernize your operations, you will need more processing power, more equipment, more sensors, etc. Have a good plan of implementation in order to avoid any unnecessary bottlenecks.
In the end, digital twin technology really is the way of the future. In the concept of Industry 4.0, DTs, together with IIoT and automation, form a core of what is the next step toward combating inefficiency and bridging the skill gap in the coming generations of laborers.
Rick Seidl is a digital marketing specialist with a bachelor’s degree in Digital Media and communications, based in Portland, Oregon. He carries a burning passion for digital marketing, social media, small business development, and establishing its presence in a digital world, and is currently quenching his thirst through writing about digital marketing and business strategies for BlogPostBiz.