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03/15/2024|Digital Twin

The path to the Digital Twin: how digitization succeeds in mechanical engineering

Time, patience, openness and good communication - for Dr. Daniel Niederwestberg, Head of Product Group & Head of Digital Twin at DMG MORI Digital GmbH, these are all factors that are needed alongside innovative technology to make the digital transformation a success. 

The development of the Digital Twin is therefore also his responsibility. Together with process integration, automation and the green transformation, the digital transformation forms the four pillars of DMG MORI's Machining Transformation approach. The 38-year-old therefore sees himself less as a boss and more as a bridge builder between specialist disciplines and generations. The results were recently on show at EMO 2023 in Hanover: DMG MORI and SIEMENS presented the first end-to-end digital twin for machining with machine tools on Siemens Xcelerator Marketplace. 
The digital twin presented connects the digital native CNC Sinumerik ONE - currently the most modern control system for machine tools - and the machine components. 
Since 2018, the doctor of engineering and his team have been working on a wide variety of Digital Twin models and thus on solutions that make companies more flexible, enable sustainable production and ensure faster time-to-market.  

Together with SIEMENS, you have driven the Digital Twin project forward on a massive scale. What was the trigger?

SIEMENS and DMG MORI recognized early on that the way we design machines today works, but still has a lot of potential. We knew that projects could be completed with increased digitization and cooperation, and that we could take our collaboration to a whole new level. The idea of the digital twin was born. 
It gave us the impetus to realign SIEMENS' control system and to rethink things and map processes completely digitally. We quickly realized that digital transformation begins primarily with changing workflows and cultures and less with implementing a technical feature. That is why we at DMG MORI also see it as our task to eliminate contact fears at the customer and, of course, within our own ranks. Some colleagues need time to get to grips with the topic of the Digital Twin: The density of information is increasing and specialist knowledge is required. This is very demanding for a salesperson - the consulting services become more intensive and specialist. We give our employees this time and turn them into strong communicators for customers who want digitalization.

What tools of the trade do you bring with you for digitization? 

I had my first contact with a 5-axis machine during my A-levels in 2003. I later studied mechanical engineering in the field of production technology. That was perfect, because when we started the project at DMG MORI in 2018, I was able to contribute a lot of knowledge that suits a company like SIEMENS: I had already dealt with digital process chains such as CAD/CAM and simulation during my studies and later also completed my doctorate on this topic.

Through the machine tool and increasing digitization, I came more and more into contact with the world of digital twins - the pieces of the puzzle of my professional life gradually came together to form a concept for digital twins: We "suddenly" had data from machines, simulation techniques, fast computers for visualization and machine learning algorithms - these were and are exciting times. This was also the time when digital twins were first described as a concept in specialist literature.

The result of your development work was on display at EMO 2023. What criteria did you use to select the machine tool?  

At EMO, we presented the digital twin for a DMU 40 and its physical counterpart together. This is an exciting machine and one of the first to be equipped with a SINUMERIC ONE control system. This opens up opportunities to realize all the digital topics that we want to tackle, but the first steps in engineering with digital twins were taken much longer ago and related to the DMU 340 Gantry. This machine was supposed to be shown at a trade fair many years ago. However, there were a few hurdles that we could not possibly overcome before the trade fair. However, as we really wanted to present results to the customer on the software side, we made a conscious decision to use a digital twin. What can I say: it worked wonderfully. That  is why for me this is the actual birth of the digital twin, the one on a gantry. It is also important to remember that digital twins are not a conventional project. Rather, they consist of many aspects that we all have to deal with.

In the future, the topic of digital twins will become more and more integrated, e.g. in CELOS X. 

Was there a specific workpiece that was processed with the digital twin at the EMO?

It is clear that such a question is almost obvious, as machine tools are built for the production of workpieces. However, as we at DMG MORI also design processes for components digitally, I would like to formulate the question differently: What are the most uneconomical machines? They are those that produce components of inferior quality or rejects, run empty or are used for something for which they are not intended. In short, this is where resources are wasted. The aim of digital twins is to remove from all activities that arise around the machine but have nothing to do with the production of a quality component. This includes training, programming, ramping up new components, running-in tests, component analyses and optimization. If this is successful, the real machine can be optimally utilized.

We are reading more and more about the industrial metaverse. What are your thoughts on this as an expert?

Although this is a central topic of my job, communication is not always easy. One of the reasons for this is that many people often associate the metaverse with virtual spaces where people meet, discuss projects or shop - topics that are popular in the B2C environment. That is why the definition of "metaverse" is important to me: it is a space in which people work together cooperatively. Does this happen using virtual reality? Do the participants use shared data, models and visualizations? Of course, a machine review can be carried out in VR rooms or a development step can be reproduced, e.g. for training purposes. That is of course a high level. Nevertheless, in my view, the industrial metaverse is characterized by a connection to the real object - a real machine. A lot is currently developing here, but the number of demonstrable use cases is still limited. I therefore think it is premature to call it a metaverse. 
This differentiation is also important in light of the fact that we at DMG MORI support all companies - regardless of the phase of their digital transformation. With their industrial metaverses, SIEMENS and NVIDIA exemplify where the journey can take us. At DMG MORI, however, we meet everyone where they are.

Mechanical engineering meets digitization – what is the impact on employees?

I only have to look at my own CV: As a mechanical engineering graduate, I have gradually grown into the world of digitization. Strictly speaking, I now work in a software company within DMG MORI. Development is extremely dynamic. Accordingly, we not only have software developers, but also software architects, dev ops specialists, release managers, quality assurance specialists, mechanical engineers and mechatronics engineers, to name just a few.

The most important thing is to recognize that they are all specialists. This means that, as a mechanical engineer, you won't get anywhere if you delve too deeply into the software matter. It is similar for developers: they do not need to understand the mechanics or electrics of machines down to the smallest detail. What is needed is an intermediary; someone who ensures understanding between the specialist disciplines. In this way, the entire construct can gradually come to life - from the trend-setting idea to real added value for our customers. I am the bridge builder at DMG MORI for all of this. Digitization will give rise to more and more cross-functions and job profiles that combine mechanics, electronics, mechanical engineering and other areas. In turn, IT will become even more specialized. We will therefore have to show even more understanding for the different working methods of other professions in the future. I see exciting developments here, especially for teaching.

Keyword development: Where do you see yourself in the digital future?

We have already achieved a lot at DMG MORI. Nevertheless, many developments will still take time. Individual companies have driven developments proprietarily - digital twins still cannot really interact with each other. In the meantime, however, we can collect and share information at a completely different level, soon calculate in a distributed manner and connect process chains from front to back. In a few years, the impact of digital twins will be so great that they will be able to interact with each other. At the age of 38, I am aware that we are still at the beginning of digitization. We will see many exciting things that are still completely beyond our imagination today. Also because they will be created in completely different and new ways that we are not even aware of today. Essentially, my job remains the same: to help machine manufacturers build machines and support customers in using these machines to create value. It remains exciting.