Vertex Enables Digital Twins for Teams (Engineering.com Article)
Amidst the flood of digital transformation, the digital twin is perhaps the most well-known technological promise in recent years. Labeled as a top technology trend for the last three years running by Gartner, the digital twin promises to collect a product’s information from every point in the lifecycle, and combine it into a 3D, digital representation of the physical product. Digital twins promise to drive product quality, gain visibility, connect teams, and lower costs.
Consider all the technologies needed to enable a digital twin. CAD drawings and product data that make up the as-designed BOM begins the digital twin’s journey. Replacements or changes during manufacturing record “as-built” information. Sensors placed on products in manufacturing and in the field stream information back into the digital twin. And companies take all that data to update “as-serviced” information. The sensors, design documentation, and service records that make up a digital twin wouldn’t be possible without the power of cloud technology.
The State of Digitization
Despite the promise, the technology and implementation of digital twins are still in their infancy. A Capgemini study reported that of the 70 percent of companies that have started a formal digital transformation, only 5 percent are satisfied with their progress. A Gartner survey found that, according to 54 percent of respondents, most digital twins serve only one constituency (a team, department, or partner) and only sometimes serve multiple constituencies.
However, this won’t always be the case. Many market research firms anticipate that digital twins will be key to the future of manufacturing. By 2020, Gartner estimates that there will be more than 20 billion connected sensors and endpoints, and that digital twins will exist for potentially billions of things. By 2020, IDC forecasts that 60 percent of manufacturers will monitor product and asset performance, and improve the quality of goods using digital twins. And 60 percent of global companies will leverage digital twins to deliver exceptional customer experiences.
Now, we have the opportunity to witness the birth of new companies and technologies that are striving to address gaps in digital twin deployment. One such firm is Vertex Software, which launched its platform in April 2019.
Digital Twins for Teams
With the evolution of Industry 4.0, modern manufacturing companies rely on a host of systems of record, including: product lifecycle management (PLM), manufacturing execution systems (MES), enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM) and Internet of Things (IoT) tools. These are all used by divisions across the company, such as the engineering, manufacturing, sales, customer relations, and service departments. Additionally, these tools are useful for external suppliers, partners, vendor networks, and customers.
In order for digital twins to be successful, they need to incorporate all this information into an easily accessible datastore. Vertex strives to achieve just that through its digital twin collaboration tool. The cloud-based BOM engagement platform uses a lightweight data architecture to tie a product’s or a system’s bill of materials (BOM) to a model that can be accessed by any records system throughout a company (PLM, ERP, MES, CRM, IoT, etc.).
The Vertex platform brings new capability to digital twins that have historically remained a challenge. The platform runs on HTML5 and Amazon Web Services (AWS), meaning that it can be accessed through a web browser on both a desktop or mobile device. Because of the cloud-first architecture, Vertex isn’t file-based like much of today’s solutions. Instead, it is API-based, meaning it has built-in connectors designed to work with other applications. It also brings the ability to visualize and collaborate with massive 3D models in the cloud, which hasn’t yet been done with digital twin technology.
Mike Sellberg, Vertex’s vice president of market strategy, says, “We took a system of engagement approach. Our collaboration platform sits on top of multiple systems of record, and because we have a lightweight data architecture we can integrate with these systems of record more easily with metadata. We provide a business intelligence layer connected to the BOM and 3D visual context for manufacturers.”
Learn more about the Vertex platform in our article “Why Simplicity Can Become King in Product Development.”
Handling Massive Models
Key for 3D collaboration in the cloud is speed, latency, and how to handle all of the massive data associated with complex 3D models. To tackle that issue, Vertex developed a unique rendering method that makes its platform extremely lightweight.
Almost 30 years before launching Vertex, CEO and founder Dan Murray was a part of the team at Engineering Animation Inc., where he—along with Sellberg—helped kick off the 3D visualization space until the firm was acquired by what is now a part of Siemens. With Vertex, Murray looks to tackle the model size problem by removing big GPUs typically necessary for rendering massive models and replacing GPUs with cloud computing. BOMs that might cripple a typical workstation can be handled by Vertex’s own architecture through the cloud.
To do this, Vertex couldn’t rely on WebGL, the existing standard for displaying 3D models online. As Vertex’s director of product Matt Heying put it, WebGL still relies on the client device to do the rendering.
“What WebGL allows you to do is serve [3D models] up from the cloud, but it still sends all of those triangles from the server back down to the device. You still have to do all the rendering on the client side,” Heying said. “What we’re doing is essentially rendering an image for the client entirely in the cloud. What the client gets is simply a PNG. Whenever they rotate an object with their mouse, it tells the servers to re-render and just sends back another PNG.”
This means that the rendering performed by the Vertex architecture is device independent. Heying performed a demo on his laptop. He suggested that the firm was able to do the same heavy lifting on a smartphone or even a Raspberry Pi. This means that a model is just as easily accessible to an engineer in the office as it is to a machine operator in the field.
The BOM Engagement platform was designed with an API focus from the start so that it could be integrated into a client’s existing tools. One of the first APIs Vertex developed was one that would make it possible to integrate the tool with a PLM program so that models and changes to models could be uploaded to sync with the Vertex platform.
The company is in the process of converting pieces of its rendering software into individual application components. This includes a custom-built IoT app that links CAD from a project to IoT data. A user can click on a piece of data and the program will highlight the part in an assembly with which it is associated, and vice versa.
“What no one has done before is connect the 3D product context to the actual IoT data,” said Mike Sellberg. “If you’re using IoT data, you can use predictive analytics to determine that a machine is beginning to show characteristics of needing to have a part replaced. You can schedule that repair or upgrade for off-hours, so you don’t have inadvertent downtime, for example. You can also use that data and feed it back to the design team, to let them understand how they can improve the design, to avoid that kind of maintenance issue in the first place. So, you get that full feedback loop of IoT back into engineering design, as well.”
Though its team is experienced, Vertex is still a new company, currently engaging in partnerships that will see the BOM Engagement platform live in the field. With that in mind, all current customer information is not disclosed for the time being. Examples of its use include factory walk-throughs that visualize entire factories linked to IoT data, as well as shop floor, electronics, and construction visualizations.
Visit the product website to learn more about the BOM Engagement platform.