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The Digital Twin: Effective Analysis, Facts and Forecasting for the Power and Utility Industry

With digital technology as an enabler, the power industry is transforming at the speed of light. One of the pathways many in the industry are looking toward for innovating operations and remaining competitive is digital twin technology.

The need for accessible, organized and actionable data drives the development and adoption of new solutions, such as digital twins, to generate valuable intelligence. With the right systems in place, electric power companies can develop key insights that are crucial for reporting and forecasting and projections that support safety, efficiency and productivity.

While businesses in the power and utility industry have access to an ever-growing volume of data generated by their operations, many lack the structure, tools and processes needed to unlock that data and transform it into effective insights useful for informed decision-making and action. Here, we'll take a closer look at digital twin technology and its functional applications.

Can Your Company Reliably Access Real-time Actionable Insights?

Power plants already rely on a wide variety of sensors to continuously collect and store data. Research conducted by Hexagon's Asset Lifecycle Intelligence division found that only 20% to 30% of data collected is directly used to inform decision-making efforts. That indicates data collected from sensors could be better optimized.

As an example, one power plant collected and stored more than 30,000 unique types of plant data for more than 10 years. However, the data stored went completely unnoticed by plant leadership. Such data is often difficult to digest, and the links between the data and its ultimate financial impact are not always obvious. Therefore, many operators can perceive such data as a "black box" — unless they were involved with the collection process.

The modern business environment makes effective use of data especially difficult. Nevertheless, companies will likely continue to create an ever-increasing volume of data, which is only truly valuable if it can be transformed into analysis and insight for their operations in the real world.

Businesses in the power and utility industry have to implement their own solutions to this critical gap between raw data and actionable information. Digital twin technology is a crucial asset in this regard, serving as an electronic counterpart to processes or even entire power plants in the physical world. Because a digital counterpart is constantly updated with data from the physical asset or process that they mirror, they serve as a highly accurate form of digital simulation. The digital twin can offer fast access to information about any current operation, support in-depth, accurate analysis and empower broadly useful forecasting.

Consider just a couple of examples of digital twin advantages:

● A single hub of intelligence and virtual mission control center , something that 87% of utility executives said is necessary to develop insights into complex issues and build organizational models, according to Accenture.

● A path to emphasizing planned work and maintenance, as opposed to reactive efforts, following an outage , can lead to significant savings in terms of time and labor.  POWER magazine explained that power and utility companies that have implemented digital twin software increased reliability by as much as 99% . At the same time, they cut reactive maintenance by as much as 40%. 

With a centralized source of actionable information and analysis, employees across the organization stand to benefit. Management stakeholders receive the analysis they need to make crucial decisions. Health, safety and environment (HSE) personnel can more accurately report urgent safety incidents to ensure timely investigations. Operations teams benefit from improvements driven by analysis and forecasting, including more efficient shift handovers and improved situational awareness.

Breaking Down Data Silos

Siloed data is inconvenient and difficult to access, especially when considering the short timelines necessary for modern operations and strategic decision-making.

By leveraging the digital twin concept, along with the digital backbone that connects the many twins in use to provide information and analysis to the right staff members at the right time, your organization can develop a single version of the truth. A singular, complete and accurate picture of operations can quickly lead to time savings, as employees can instantaneously access the right document for a given situation instead of sorting through stacks of paper or multiple digital systems, for example. In turn that means more time spent on productive work and less on managing inefficient processes for tracking information.

That benefit is relevant to everyone from maintenance and reliability engineers, who must access an incredibly broad range of data to deliver operational excellence, to plant leaders who must make critical decisions in an incredibly brief time frame. Further, well-formed processes and technology enable sustaining engineering – where changes made to the physical plant are directly tied to changes within the digital twin. As a result, both assets are continually in sync and the digital twin does not become obsolete over time.

Interested in sustaining engineering? Click here to watch a quick demo highlighting the complete sustaining engineering workflow.

Aligning Digital Twin Solutions to Business Maturity Needs

By using digital twins, electric power companies gain the actionable insight needed to effectively triage their operations. Resources can be dedicated to the issues that have the greatest chance of affecting the plant in the near future, whether it means seizing an opportunity or mitigating a potential problem. Applying analytics empowers plant management to monitor current events, predict likely outcomes in the future and then suggest new, different and better courses of action.

Power and utility companies each begin the digital transformation (DX) process — implementing digital twins, automating operations and much more — at different times and make progress at a variety of paces. It's vital to recognize that a digital twin can create value regardless of where your own organization currently sits on its path to digital transformation.

While a company that's already made significant progress in DX may realize a long list of benefits in the short-term, every electric power company stands to benefit after implementation. While the industry has discussed many types of twins, such as design twins, construction twins, project twins and operational twins, Hexagon understands that needs can differ substantially from one business to the next. As such, we have developed a process leveraging our Digital Twin for projects, Operational Twin and Situational Awareness solutions that serve as components of the larger digital backbone to provide value for all types of companies. We take these stages of the asset lifecycle into account to deliver value in every implementation.

Specifically, we have divided digital twins into four maturity stages:

● First stage: Emphasizing a basic set of structured data and documents that define the facility configuration, designed by engineering teams in the Project Twin. Companies at the beginning of their DX journey can improve decision-making with more access to information and intelligence, as well as optimize engineering-to-operations handover processes.

● Second stage: By incorporating 2D models, 3D schematics or laser scans, companies benefit from more intuitive navigation and viewing of the visual representation of their digital twins. Additionally, benefits related to the combination of engineering, operations and maintenance data in an Operational Twin begin to develop.

● Third stage: Increased interoperability enhances the Operational Twin, linking to additional operational information sources such as asset performance, data historian maintenance management and real-time data solutions.

● Fourth stage: The source of major DX business benefits, a digital twin at this stage can be used to manage value-added work processes, such as human procedures, inspections, change management and more. Advanced analytics (including predictive and prescriptive analytics), artificial intelligence and machine learning can all be incorporated to reduce downtime and optimize the most efficient use of capital. 

An Information-Driven Future for the Power & Utility Industry

Data is the foundation of informed decision-making, and a reliable structure must be built before benefits like enhanced insights, an array of analytics options and streamlined access to operational data can be realized. Through the DX process and, more specifically, with a digital twin in place, businesses have more than just data — they unlock useful, accessible and actionable information about the past, present and future.

Hexagon offers an achievable path to DX, maximizing operations, connecting operational data and empowering a journey of operational excellence through crucial solutions like the digital twin. Power and utility companies can break down data silos to create a single source of truth, empowering everyone from business leaders making high-level strategic decisions to the reliability engineers developing strategies for safer and more resilient power plants.

It's time for you to unlock the full potential of your data so that your company can reach its optimal state of continuous improvement on its digital transformation journey.  Contact us today and let our dedicated solution experts help you accelerate into the power operations of tomorrow.

Tom Goff is a senior industry consultant in Hexagon’s PPM division with a passion for continuous improvement and extensive expertise for leading organizations and executing the delivery of highly regulated, commercial and federal, EPC and Capital programs and projects. Tom has led global integrations to shared engineering and information management platforms, design of major capital projects across the nuclear, chemical, and oil & gas industries, as well as directed operational excellence and process improvement initiatives for major EPC construction projects. 

Bob Hooper is a senior industry consultant in Hexagon’s PPM division with a successful track record in the development and implementation of operational excellence, lean manufacturing and reliability programs within the oil and gas, chemicals and consumer products industries. His areas of expertise include program management and change management, and specializes in helping customers understand the intricacies and applications of a variety of digital technologies. 

Peter Wilson is a senior industry consultant in Hexagon’s PPM division. He is highly experienced in analyzing business processes and managing business transformation through operational excellence. He has successfully delivered business transformation projects across Europe, Middle East and Asia within aerospace, FMCG, defense and energy, in both the public and private sectors.