May 18th 2023

Digital twin R&D pilot projects for Airbus and Toyota pave way for sustainable manufacturing

Digital twin R&D pilot projects for Airbus and Toyota pave way for sustainable manufacturing

A large R&D project called THERM was carried out in 2010 and 2011, funded by Innovate UK who were then known as the Technology Strategy Board. The project aim was to address sustainable manufacturing practices by modelling both the building and the manufacturing processes at the same time in order to understand the potential for improving energy consumption and resource use in manufacturing test sites.

IES’ role was to develop a ground-breaking integrated tool for sustainable manufacturing, which was capable of modelling the interaction between manufacturing production systems and their physical environments, both the building and the local area. The work on this project went on to form the basis of IES’ current Digital Twin for manufacturing offering. As part of this project, IES worked with project partners Airbus and Toyota on the following pilot studies.

Airbus Pilot Project

On this large-scale manufacturing process-led example, the aim was to identify the largest energy consumers within the Airbus factory and make reductions where possible. The IES modelling tool allowed for an integrated approach to building physics and manufacturing processes to gain a full understanding of the overall energy balance in the factory, whose main fuel source was electricity.

The approach identified the largest process and building energy consumers, and then ensured equipment was turned off when it was not required, thereby eliminating energy use during long periods of production stoppage.

For example, the Air Handling Unit (AHU) showed a constant energy profile, indicating it was operating all the time, but when it was compared to production schedules, significant stop periods were identified. In addition, the data was used to simulate and test the impact of different profile variations, for example, start-up time, on energy use in order to identify the best combined building operation and production schedules.

IES also examined if different levels of data granularity were causing a mismatch of information and negatively impacting on the quality of the analysis. Consequently, the time intervals data looked at were made consistent in order to undertake more sophisticated analysis and produce better saving opportunities. IES subsequently used its software’s visualisation features to demonstrate the energy flow throughout the factory floor, with the equipment being analysed and simulated highlighted in yellow.

Toyota Pilot Project

On this small but complex HVAC and control process-led example, the aim was to analyse the technology and equipment layout of a specific paint shop process with many different energy using aspects, in order to reduce energy consumption (i.e. heat redistribution) for gas, electricity and steam. Toyota had already turned off the steam boilers themselves.

The energy flow and breakdown was analysed for each of gas, electricity and steam, to see if there were any opportunities to reduce or eliminate some elements within the system, and therefore reduce energy consumption. It was revealed that the primary consumer was gas through heating. IES could then start to virtually test certain configurations, not only to see the impact on the energy consumption of the unit, but also on the conditions in the space, such as humidity levels. When spraying cars and doors, the humidity levels need to be optimum.

IES was able to show the limited impact of steam injection on the system and assess how much energy could be saved if it was eliminated. It was shown that steam injection can contribute to pushing the entering air condition away from its most economical humidity/temperature position, so the model was used to assess the psychrometric impact, as well as to calculate the potential energy saved.

In order to optimise plant operation to improve efficiency, IES mapped the current performance against that required to maintain entering air conditions at their ideal temperature and humidity. They also identified energy consumers which could be reduced, such as steam reheat, which was used to get the air back into the optimal condition control window when it was under-heated or over-humidified.

IES went further to show that shifting from the current technology configuration could reduce the stream reheat required to maintain the entering air condition. Simulation revealed a theoretical lower energy alternative to the above use of steam reheat.

Today, IES’s technology has evolved hugely with a fully online simulation model that co-exists with the processes, looking at the big picture for tangible, accurate insights. A lot of the analysis comes from calibrations: getting data from the site (a fully automated process), determining performance, mimicking the model, running various hypothetical scenarios and making improvements with the use of AI and machine learning.”
Vincent Murray, Associate Director at IES

Digital Twins can effectively test manufacturing methods and procedures including production, assembly and inventory processes. IES’ technology greatly reduces the time and costs that physical testing of a manufacturing system would incur. IES has the simulation tool development expertise, market presence and the motivation to exploit the tool for the benefit of the whole UK manufacturing industry.”
Dr Michael Oates, Senior Product Owner at IES