This is an excerpt from our White Paper, Digital Twin and Augmented Reality: From Ideal to Real with MES. You can access the paper in its entirety here.

Everyone seems to have a vision on Industry 4.0 but the big question remains: how the associated digital technologies can be effectively and efficiently implemented for quick time to value. We think we have the answer, and it encompasses combining technologies such as Digital Twin and Augmented Reality (AR) with modern operations management systems such as MES.

Let’s Start with the Basics: Digital Twin and AR

Digital Twin is a digital replica of a physical entity, such as a production line or individual piece of processing equipment. In manufacturing, it includes a set of models and data about this product, asset, production line or plant. Using IIoT data, it allows real-time updates to the virtual model, based upon what is happening in the real (physical) system.   

Augmented Reality (AR) provides an interactive experience of a real-world environment, where objects that reside in the real world are enhanced by computer-generated perceptual information, including sensory, auditory, and olfactory. As we show in the image below, and similar to Digital Twin, there’s a continuum between the physical and virtual worlds.

Now, let’s look at how these technologies interplay. AR bridges the physical world of your plant with the virtual world of the Digital Twin replica, by offering a view into both entities, fueled by data derived from the actual processes to assist in decision making and knowledge management.

Digital Twin explanation

There is one other concept that bears discussion: Digital Thread. A digital thread describes the framework which connects data flows and produces a holistic view of an asset’s data across its product lifecycle. This framework addresses protocols, security, and standards. Typically, the digital thread connects digital twins, digital models of physical assets, or groups of assets.  A digital thread encompasses all of the outgoing data flows that support both the digital and physical aspects of a process. This thread is part of the horizontal and vertical integration of Industry 4.0 between systems and disciplines.

The MES-Based Digital Twin

Digital Twins and MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems) are, by nature, deeply intertwined. We think MES is the ‘original’ digital twin of the factory! If you look at what an MES does—provide a plant model; data definitions; mapping the production processes (both physical and virtual) and use data for status and decision making, MES inherently has had a digital twin at its core.

Let’s look deeper into MES key capabilities to understand why it IS a digital twin tool:

  • Capture and store data, making full synchronization of the virtual (Twin) and real-worlds easy and inherent
  • Ability to process incoming data streams from all connected devices, including IIoT
  • Compare incoming data to standards stored in the model, ensuring that error-proofing, alerts and alarms can be generated

The newer versions of MES—Augmented MES—works with a digital twin to reflect status, use modern sensors (IIoT, RFID, scanners) for updates on materials, equipment, tools, employees and transport systems, coordinating and updating the model to reflect the current conditions.

Newer MES’s will allow you to use existing blueprints and CAD models of equipment, and location-based services. They will be able to quickly load data, position elements in the virtual spaces and visualize results in ways that are useful for you and your workforce.

MES Boosts AR

For years, MES has provided guidance for operators and technicians through on-screen work instructions. That was considered a vital part of the operator interface. With the advent of AR, MES now expands its usability to deliver critical overlay on employees, using AR or ‘smart’ glasses, mobile phones, tablets or other digital devices.

Augmented Reality explanation

An example would be an employee using AR glasses to view an asset, such as a piece of processing equipment.  The MES could display quantities, test results, work instructions, genealogy or history records.  It could show equipment status, or maintenance data such as MTBF or MTTR.  The company can simply configure which pieces of data to display, in which order, for each asset, using the AR identifiers in the MES.

AR can be applied to most disciplines within the factory. Operations and maintenance can see SOP’s, checklists, WIP, and KPIs on quality, throughput and availability. They can gain interactive work process guidance to error-proof their activities. Tracking materials per container—quantities, serial numbers and age—can benefit operations, shipping and customer service.  The possibilities are endless.

Augmented MES is Real, Today!

We’ve talked about how a modern MES can use Digital Twin and AR to boost productivity and accelerate improvements. These are not theoretical examples—there are commercial versions of these MES suites available today. They are designed from the ground-up to support Industry 4.0 and the associated digital technologies—we call them Augmented MES.

Augmented MES can help you explore, build and improve the manufacturing digital twin, and employ AR in your factory. But not all MES’s can do this! Many current MES offerings do not have the breadth of applications nor the augmented capabilities to support Industry 4.0, IIoT, Digital Twin and AR.

So select carefully—but be prepared to enjoy the benefits once you’ve chosen your Augmented MES. Augmented MES accelerates a company’s progress towards Industry 4.0 dramatically and immediately. It provides you that foundation to employ next generation technologies such as Digital Twin, AR and IIoT. And it gives you a data platform for continuing advancements in operational insight and performance—the benchmarks for reaching Industry 4.0.

Digital Twin whitepaper