'Human buy-in' needed for digital twin deployment

Sean Gigremosa, technical product manager at Rolls-Royce Power Systems

(Credit: Shutterstock)
(Credit: Shutterstock)

Faced with increased competition in asset data management, Rolls-Royce Power Systems (RRPS) realised that it needed to change the way its client base was served.

It appeared that what was needed was a technology solution, in the form of a virtual representation of physical systems. But, the outcome also called for a complete strategic rethink at management level. 

“The issue was that we didn’t see our products the way our customers do,” says Sean Gigremosa. “We saw data that was stored in different systems and our focus was on those silos. We saw the world based on our technology and process, infrastructure and delivery methodology.” The conceptual shift put in place by RRPS was to put “what matters to customers at the centre of what we do”.

Practically, this meant the installation of asset-focused digital twins providing a single access point for the data needed by service managers to resolve customer issues and deliver system insights. To do this, RRPS harnessed digital twin technology from Iotic Twins, to provide a virtual composite of the entirety of an asset’s data and controls, “securely and meaningfully, while interacting with other twins, to provide a single source of truth that helps suppliers become service providers and customers to become partners”.

This benefits the client in three ways. First, potential problems can be identified more promptly, leading to faster issue resolution. The second is quality, with Gigremosa explaining that the implementation of digital twins, “means that we see not only each customer’s point of view, but can collectively gain insight across a customer’s assets, enabling us to improve our products”. Third is the provision of detailed insight to the customer, which can anticipate problems before they arise, with the result that there is reduced downtime.

For all the technology, to achieve these goals there needed to be human buy-in. Gigremosa says that if he could pick one word to define how success was achieved, it is involvement. “Agile development focuses on the user, so we started with our service management personnel, involving the team, testing and validating at every stage,” he says. “We ran a design thinking process to understand our customer needs. Ultimately, agility depends on people. Being agile has put the customer at the heart of our everyday conversations.” Which is more than simply predicting their requirements: “It’s really about including the customer in the discussion, so they can tell you what they want.”

This is where Gigremosa points out that it’s important to draw distinctions between business, digital and process transformations. While business transformation is a common goal, and digital transformation – in this case, the implementation of digital twins – is what needs to be done to achieve this, it is the area of process transformation that can create roadblocks, because “you’re asking users to do new things in new ways, and disrupting downstream service”. Key to the RRPS implementation of Iotic is that the process is “additive and complementary to existing workflows”. The user experience is enhanced in such a way that disruption is kept to a minimum, making acceptance of, and involvement in, the new landscape “easier for everyone”.

“The main driver for change is the environment we find ourselves in,” says Gigremosa. Because technology is moving “so fast, start-ups and more agile companies are now able to compete with larger organisations. Think about Amazon,” he says, “that was at first only an online bookseller. But, due to agility and innovation, it has become one of the largest and most successful companies in the world.”

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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