Digital twins for manufacturing facilities to optimise operations
Author: Penny Boviatsou
Completing a renovation or expansion of an existing facility can be a difficult job. When companies expand their product lines, they regularly rearrange assembly lines and repurpose spaces to optimise manufacturing operations. Having a digital twin of these facilities speeds up the planning process for changing manufacturing shop floors, increases safety standards for production and employees, and improves workforce productivity.
Several firms in Europe and the U.S. use large post-war buildings constructed from the 1950s and 60s as manufacturing facilities. Many of these properties have an out-dated infrastructure and need to be upgraded to comply with the latest building codes and manufacturing regulations. Limited space conditions in those older manufacturing facilities make it challenging to upgrade and refurbish the building to guarantee safe production and working conditions and keep operational down time as little as possible.
Similar historic manufacturing facilities without up-to-date records belong to Jaguar Land Rover Automotive PLC (JLR), a British multinational automotive company with headquarters in Whitley, Coventry, United Kingdom. The principal activity of JLR is the design, development, manufacture, and sale of vehicles bearing the iconic Jaguar and Land Rover car brands.
JLR frequently has to redevelop the properties when new product lines come on board. The manufacturing and engineering team is responsible for developing new manufacturing equipment for their production lines. This can also impact their existing assembly lines and building infrastructure and requires redesigns, renovations and changes to the manufacturing facilities. JLR required an up-to-date digital twin of the existing building and production lines to efficiently plan and redesign all the changes.
Digital twins for facility management and renovations
Having an accurate digital twin of the existing conditions enables the engineering and facility management team to virtually plan their renovations and evaluate changes before executing them. By adopting the right technologies, facility management teams uncover hidden inefficiencies, recover costs, deliver new value to buildings and ensure properties are fully optimised.
Historically JLR had clashes when renovations were taking place; they were looking for a solution to help them understand the existing buildings in the UK and Slovakia to perform basic clash detection. This process would help the team identify, inspect and report interference in the construction project model.
With a drive to do more work in-house, rely less on external providers, and facilitate business processes, JLR invested in the Leica RTC360 laser scanner, a reality capture solution that enables users to capture and document their environments in 3D and Leica Cyclone point cloud processing software.
“We often used survey companies to conduct our internal surveys, but we would find that the survey data wasn’t shared between vendors; by scanning the properties and processing the data ourselves, we can share the information across a wider project team so we could all benefit from it,” said Alistair Innes, information manager at JLR.
Connecting the physical and digital world to gain control over your facility
The RTC360 allowed them to capture the physical world and create a digital 3D point cloud of their facilities. This 3D digital twin helped the team to analyse and modify different element of the existing facility directly in 3D.
JLR used the RTC360 point cloud for different applications:
To create digital models (digital twin) from physical locations. Matt Thompson, virtual manufacturing engineering manager at JLR and his team scanned a 9,000 square-metre assembly hall to create a digital twin for virtual to physical alignment. Digital twin is the extracted value, the connection between the physical world and the virtual world, which leads to digital transformation through intelligent software working on the data from a reality capture – in other words – “the physical product, the virtual product and the connection between the two”.
JLR used the digital twin to perform clash detection and also for rapidly confirming what is physically in the facility when looking at designing elements in the digital space. The digital twin was used during the pre-design phase for site analysis, review of existing structures, construction cost analysis and engineering budget evaluation.
“The use of the Leica RTC360 has allowed us to link our physical and digital worlds like never before. The team now has the capability to rapidly bring physical geometry into our design phase, ensuring that we minimise any clashes at the installation phase long before we have begun construction of components,” said Matt Thompson, virtual manufacturing engineering manager at JLR.
Verification. Mistakes and rework can consume the construction budget. With a proactive approach, Alistair Innes, information manager at JLR, would compare the as-built high-quality point cloud scan data from the RTC360 against the model. JLR could precisely record and compare the as-built condition against the design to establish whether it meets their requirements. The process would ensure that the equipment is installed in the correct location and according to the 3D CAD model. Leica CloudWorx allowed JLR to work efficiently with the point cloud directly in Navisworks.
To create CAD models for physical alignments. When JLR had to install a climate chamber tester system, it took them two hours of scanning, an hour of registration, and four hours of post-processing to create the CAD models from the point cloud. The point cloud represents the real environments and enables accurate 3D CAD modelling process further.
“With the RTC360, we can quickly scan spaces in-house, create CAD models within a few hours and provide stakeholders the required deliverable to design, modify and install the equipment in the facility,” said Thompson. “Instead of relying on external providers, we can identify the need and activate a team to provide the survey data within a day.”
Investing in decision-making tools
Leica Geosystems organised a two-day training for JLR in Milton Keynes, UK, to discover the full potential of the RTC360 and provided after-sales support during the data acquisition and processing.
“As the engineer responsible for implementing reality capture capability into JLR manufacturing engineering operations, we have been delighted at the service and support Leica Geosystems have given. They supported us at every stage, from selection of the equipment to the use of the equipment on site. The ability to be able to capture our manufacturing facilities in-house has been a game-changer and is already delivering cost savings and operational efficiencies; our only regret is not doing it sooner,” said Alistair Innes, information manager at JLR.