MRO Magazine

How 3D digital twins are ushering in a new era of manufacturing

April 30, 2024 | By Emily Newton

Photo: Yingyaipumi.

Photo: Yingyaipumi.

Are you a tech employee helping a manufacturing plant adopt a 3D digital twin? Learn about some fascinating ways these offerings can enhance visibility and strengthen decision-making across production facilities of all sizes and types. 

Software engineers and other tech professionals are increasingly in demand due to the expertise they can offer manufacturing clients regarding 3D digital twins. Operating a successful manufacturing business requires dealing with times of uncertainty. Although a 3D digital twin can’t eliminate that reality, it can give users more visibility, allowing them to try specific options before committing to them in real life.

Making confident manufacturing-related construction investments

Manufacturers occasionally must make decisions about expanding their factories or moving to new, larger sites. Both those changes are often vital for enabling producers to meet new marketplace demands, especially if some plans involve making more products or lengthening assembly lines.


As a 2024 manufacturing industry outlook found, spending for construction-related needs has risen significantly over the past several years. That trend has often occurred while legislators have introduced packages to decrease inflation’s strain or encourage manufacturers to build new factories to combat shortages of essential products, such as semiconductors.

Some companies offer 3D digital twin tools that can make models ranging in specificity from entire cities to single properties. Users can study factors such as local infrastructure suitability, ease of access to factory facilities and proximity to universities, residential communities or other amenities that could affect the manufacturing plant’s ability to attract employees. 

Suppose a manufacturing leader intends to open a new facility or expand an existing one. In that case, they may need to operate according to limitations associated with local waterways, protected nature areas, public parks and other local aspects. A 3D digital twin can aid them in meeting such requirements, greatly reducing the chances of mandated rework, denied permits or other complications.

Many manufacturing leaders are increasingly considering how worsening climate change could affect their businesses, such as by making storms and temperature extremes happen more frequently. However, a 3D digital twin makes approving proactive options in a new or expanded manufacturing building much easier, helping manufacturers mitigate environmental effects.

Increasing competitiveness with 3D digital twins

Changing consumer tastes and rising living costs are a few of the societal trends that can cause slumps, even if manufacturers recently went through comparatively profitable periods. New marketplace entrants can also cause competitive shakeups. People may be curious about an unfamiliar brand that seems better or comparable to something already in the market.

These realities mean manufacturers must continually explore ways to innovate, whether by improving existing products or launching new ones. Sometimes, manufacturing efforts in these areas directly respond to consumer needs. When people in the target market feel understood, valued and catered for, they’ll be more likely to stick with the manufacturers and brands they know well — even when new options become available. 

Some consumers expect brands to frequently push the boundaries, too. Many tech companies are excellent examples. When the newest laptop or smartphone gets released, loyal customers eagerly scan the specifications, looking to see how those models compare to previous options. 

Some entire product categories demand innovation, too. For example, electric vehicle makers rely on digital twins to predict how their creations will perform in real-world environments. In addition to helping determine a model’s range, safety, aerodynamics and other factors, digital twins can optimize manufacturing processes and design meetings. When those outcomes occur, automakers are well-positioned to release high-performing, visually enticing cars faster than competitors can. 

A 3D digital twin can also reduce waste that happens once products leave factories. People have used digital twins to monitor temperature changes for perishable products, determining which factors make the goods spoil faster. Better resource usage through loss prevention supports competitiveness. 

Using 3D digital twins to improve factory layouts

3D digital twins also aid manufacturers in creating or enhancing factories to make them meet current and future needs. Factories are perpetually busy places, so traffic bottlenecks, poorly placed equipment or overly narrow aisles can all make those environments fall short of their productivity potential. 

Some technology solutions turn 2D and 3D sensing data into three-dimensional digital twins. The highly detailed models facilitate manufacturers in proceeding with robotic path planning, the placement of new connected machinery or the addition of new internal storage areas. 

Well-planned factory layouts give manufacturers more flexibility to accommodate changing needs. They might need to hire more team members, install a production line for a new product or launch an on-site repair service as a customer perk. Conversely, when people rush layout planning or hardly consider it, the environment could contribute to injuries, wasted time and frustration for everyone working in it. 

A 2023 study found digital twins could shorten the time to design industrial floor plans and create more effective factories. One important conclusion related to accurately mapping physical assets to digital models, ensuring the two closely reflect each other. 

The researchers envisioned cases whereby the digital twin updates as the real-world environment changes. When that happens, leaders have pertinent information to shape decision-making and optimize internal processes. The digital twin’s data could also aid in answering challenging questions. For example, what impact would moving an assembly line a few feet to the right have in promoting smoother movement of pedestrians and vehicles around the factory? 

A digital twin can also identify the root causes of identified problems. For example, is the current facility really too small? Might strategic layout changes make it feasible to keep operating in the space for the foreseeable future? 

Plan to get 3D digital twin guidance

Setting aside ample time for learning how to use 3D digital twins and become familiar with their primary features will also help manufacturers succeed. Although these offerings are relatively new, many vendors offer in-depth support, ensuring customers can maximize their investments. 

Finally, people involved in designing or otherwise working with digital twins must think about the barriers these technologies will help a manufacturing plant overcome. When a facility operates smoothly and accommodates changing needs, the company will likely thrive in a challenging marketplace. 


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