Seeking solutions in the virtual world

05 December 2018

The development by Hosokawa Micron of its digital twin processing plant was a significant milestone on its digital journey. Find out how it has enabled the company to offer new services to its customers.

It was demand for increased productivity and a secure business future that was at the heart of Hosokawa Micron’s investigation into how it could combine its market leading powder processing equipment and services with virtual technologies and data analytics to reinvigorate business revenue and growth.

Iain Crosley, managing director at Hosokawa Micron takes up the story: “With a call for increased adoption of digital industrialisation to boost manufacturing we were keen to explore the potential for business growth offered by the digital and virtual worlds in order to achieve our business growth objectives. 

“Our initial experience of using virtual reality and plant visualisation was a great success; helping to build and sell the largest ever 14 chamber containment system and first sterile isolator, without the need for a costly wooden mock-up. This success led us to wonder whether there was a way to bring virtual and data analytics technologies together to drive improvements in plant performance.” 

The company set out on a path to build the process industry’s first digital twin combining virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), artificial intelligence (AI) and big data to create a tool where the actions in a virtual world control real world activity – bridging the gap between the physical and digital world. 

Hosokawa’s digital twin processing plant, developed in conjunction with the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) at the University of Sheffield, shadows equipment and operations at its contract processing facility in Runcorn. It displays a duplicate of the fully operational, commercial processing system that mirrors accurate data and control screen information enabling real-time monitoring and control of process plant performance and turning data into valuable insights to optimise and automate processes.

Utilising Siemen’s MindSphere open cloud operating platform to link process equipment and controls the digital twin solution enables Hosokawa to monitor and control the processing plant to enhance productivity and competitiveness and offer an improved service for its customers, both in terms of contract processing and process development.

Sensors capture real-time and essential operational data which can then be analysed and interpreted to provide insights into all aspects of the plant’s production performance and the status of the assets and aid strategic decision making, scheduling, predictive maintenance and operational availability.

The automated facility operates with pre-set, optimised parameters. Alarms are triggered at set points when anomalies arise and require operator intervention. This enables rapid response and can initiate immediate plant process changes, helping to minimise product losses and unnecessary downtimes.

The application of digital twin technology puts the plant operation in the hands of an expert whether that be on or off site.

Real world benefits 
The benefits of digital twins have been well documented in their role as virtual prototypes on which to provide tested solutions and product improvement while minimising the cost, time and risk of development. 

For Hosokawa, it has resulted in a 34% growth in contract processing sales and an upward future projection in sales growth. A reduction in out-of-specification material has been combined with a 98% ‘get it right’ production value. This has generated a positive improvement in customer retention due to the impact of delivery time accuracy and waste minimisation.

“Our success to date has also secured further company investment in the development of our contract processing facility,” continued Crosley. “The immersive nature of VR and digital twinning is also offering positive step changes in training, both on and off site ,that will benefit customers. For those in remote parts of the world, the twin will allow more effective identification of service and maintenance requirements and even plant commissioning in far-flung locations.”
Overcoming barriers
A lack of in-house knowledge of the digital technologies involved, including gaming visualisation, proved a barrier to creating an easy to use, high functionality twin. Which is where help from AMRC proved vital to the success of the project.
Other barriers that needed to be overcome included a lack of instrumentation and sensors, a alack of data analysis capability, a lack of equipment condition and state visibility . All of these issues needed to be addressed and, at the same time production demands still had to be met.

A digital future? 
Uptake of digital twin technology is expected to accelerate as its application moves beyond business critical, higher-value assets to others across production processes. Operators of Hosokawa plant, for example, will come to rely on digital twins to gain essential, real-time insights into the condition of parts, materials, energy consumption, maintenance schedules while also benefiting from simulations of a range of production variables.

As more digital twins are connected with their physical counterparts, new applications and new benefits develop. Hosokawa machines can be improved and optimised, innovative new machines can be developed in a more customer- and data-driven way and after-sales service is enhanced.

The opportunities are endless, especially as digital twin technology is combined with novel approaches to gather input, advanced analytics and artificial intelligence and advanced simulation.

Come and see for yourself
It is predicted that within the next five years 85% of Internet of Things (IoT) enabled platforms will have digital twin functionality so the Hosokawa Micron journey is one that many other manufacturers will very soon be taking.

Hosokawa Micron is now inviting companies interested in including digital twinning within their operations to arrange a visit to the Hosokawa Micron Contract Processing Facility to gain a better understanding about how these technologies can be applied to their businesses. “We are happy to share our experience with others and enable them to pick up practical tips and better understand the benefits of connecting the real and virtual worlds of manufacturing,” concluded Crosley.

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