April 7, 2022

The many applications and benefits of Digital Twins in the different PLM phases

By Daniel Jorge

petrochemical oil refinery

Regardless of the implemented project or the used management methodology, all projects can be separated into basic stages for a better understanding from their beginning to their end. This separation can be done through the PLM (Project Lifecycle Management), which serves to indicate each of these stages and facilitates the management of new or existing projects.

PLM’s functionality is also very valuable in industry, when analyzing, for example, the development of an industrial plant or the improvement of a process with new equipment. In this scenario, in search for greater efficiency in the operation, digital transformation allies itself to PLM by introducing some technologies that have direct impact on the results of each phase of the project, such as Digital Twins.

Because of this, it becomes extremely important to understand each of the stages of PLM, along with the problems that arise during them, and how the digitalization process (more specifically the Digital Twin) can be the answer for the industries’ growth.


What are the phases of PLM?


Although different conceptions of the Project Lifecycle Management separation stages can be found, for a better understanding of each one and a deeper analysis of the Digital Twin, the division will be explained in 6 parts:


  1. Basic Project Design and Planning;
  2. Engineering and Design;
  3. Construction, Installation and Commissioning;
  4. Operational and Maintenance;
  5. Decommissioning;
  6. Ending of asset life cycle.


The explanation of each of the stages will be done later, crossing the needs of each one with the functionalities of a Digital Twin!


But what is a Digital Twin


To understand how Digital Twin can be used in the different stages of an industrial project, it is necessary to understand what exactly this technology represents.

The Digital Twin was developed by Michel Grieves in 2002, with the initial goal of being used within PLM. The term then indicates a virtual representation of a physical asset. However, the difference is that there is a constant exchange of information between the real and the digital environment. Thus, what happens in one influences the other, and vice versa.

For this, along with the 3D modeling, several technologies are integrated, such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Internet of Things, enabling the integration of different environments, machines, assets and data, and this way improving the performance of asset management integrity activities.




Uses of Digital Twin in the different stages of PLM

1. Basic Project Design and Planning


The first stage of PLM basically consists of planning the scope of the project, defining the required (and available) budget and assigning initial responsibility to the stakeholders. This phase usually arises when identifying problems within a certain industry sector, seeking to optimize results, or in the case of creating a production process from scratch.

As a guide for this initial planning, it is possible to base it on 6 key questions, which if properly answered, will greatly facilitate the entire process and subsequent steps:


  1. What will be done?
  2. How will it be done?
  3. Who will do it?
  4. When will it be done?
  5. What is the expected result?
  6. Is the planning in accordance with the established budget?


At this stage, however, there is still no physical asset and, therefore, we have no way to apply Digital Twin. Nevertheless, defining well the expected results and the budget are important factors that can later be followed up by Digital Twins!

2. Engineering and Design


In the second phase of PLM, the detailing of each part of the asset in an engineering project occurs according to the needs and criteria established in the planning.

In this case, as it is not yet dealt with the physical asset, again there is no Digital Twin. However, we can mention another very important technology for the cohesion of the whole project structure, and which presents itself as a starting point for the digitalization of the industry: the Building Information Modeling (BIM).

BIM is a modeling system capable of providing graphical and non-graphical information about the project. With the progress of the second phase of PLM, BIM can be further developed, adding information such as civil, hydraulic, electrical, and budgetary design in one place. This avoids structural errors and allows all the necessary fronts to be compatible in order to activate the next stage of PLM.


Businessman Overseeing Plant Production in PLM

3. Construction, Installation and Commissioning


With the entire project of the asset planned and designed, the construction stage of the structure begins. Here occurs from the definition of raw material suppliers, purchase of equipment, installation, until the activation of the assets.

In this stage it is very common that communication problems occur during construction, lack of materials, or even leftovers due to exaggerated purchases. To help in this process, it is possible for the first time to integrate the Digital Twin technology into the project.

Because of this, the Digital Twin, with the constant exchange of information between the real and virtual environments, makes it possible to concentrate information about the progress of the project and to follow the construction and installation of the asset in real time, since there is now a physical structure being assembled.

4. Operational and Maintenance


Once the asset is installed, working and starting to generate results, the operation and maintenance stage is initiated. This is usually the longest lasting stage of PLM, with constant inspections of the equipment, seeking to maximize its lifetime for the operation by performing maintenance and repairs.

In this case, when talking about a complete industrial plant, there are thousands of pieces of equipment running at the same time that are susceptible to problems, and any unplanned downtime of the operation or process can be very costly. In addition, other very common problems can be listed below:


  • Difficulty in analyzing the large amount of information generated at all time and occasionally low digitalization of this data;
  • Lack of data concentration on the assets (both the current ones and the ones generated in the previous steps) and the use of many different task management systems, leading to information loss over time;
  • Low efficiency in maintenance and consequently increased costs in the operation;
  • Difficulty in identifying problems and making quick and agile strategic decisions, generating unplanned downtime in the operation;
  • Limited budget to deal with the problems presented in the industrial plant.


Because of this, it is in this fourth phase of PLM where Digital Twin is able to show its full potential. Thanks to the constant exchange of information between virtual and digital environments, one of the Digital Twin’s possibilities is data contextualization, which combined with this constant flow of information can improve O&M.

In other words, it is possible to monitor the operating cost of a given asset, its efficiency over time, and even perform preventive maintenance on it, increasing the equipment’s useful life.

5 and 6. Decommissioning and Ending of Asset Life Cycle


With the need to permanently shut down the operation of a piece of equipment or the industrial process completely, we have the last two stages of PLM, which are very much focused on the management of the project itself.

In these stages, the physical asset ceases to exist, and consequently so does your Digital Twin. Thus, the most important thing is to understand the positive and negative points during operation and store this information in easily accessible places so that the next PLM applications are even more assertive!

Want to deepen your knowledge about Digital Twin and understand more about this technology? Click here and download our exclusive ebook on the subject!

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