By Carsten Baumann From the February 2023 Issue
Uncontrolled operation and neglected maintenance of electrical systems in facilities increases safety and financial risks, often causing unplanned outages that can lead to equipment damage and injuries to personnel. Outages can also cost businesses hundreds of thousands, sometimes even millions, of dollars in losses. In their efforts to prevent these outages and properly maintain their facilities, most power systems engineers working in plants are limited to working with static paper or PDF-based electrical single-line diagrams, which—at times—aren’t updated properly. These limitations increase risk to operations and the difficulty of properly maintaining and updating the electrical systems documentation.
In response to these facility maintenance challenges, digital twins are becoming an increasingly popular tool for predictive facility maintenance in the power systems industry. A digital twin is “a digital representation of a real-world entity or system.” Data, collected via IoT sensors attached to or embedded in a physical asset, is mapped onto a virtual model. This true-to-reality simulation model then has the power to enable power systems engineers to make more informed decisions about the maintenance and operation of their facilities.
Running ‘What If’ Scenarios
By overhauling old-school static representation into dynamic, real-time simulation that is enhanced by intelligent data, facility executives have the power to transform their facility maintenance in 2023. A digital twin isn’t limited to only modeling real-time conditions—it can also run predictive simulations. Digital twins can optimize a facility’s performance by simulating different scenarios and identifying the best course of action. The real-time data on the performance of a facility that a digital twin provides can identify potential problems before they occur, allowing engineers to address them and prevent downtime or other issues proactively.
This ability to run “what if” scenarios allows engineers to simulate different scenarios and see how they would impact the performance of a facility without the risk of subjecting themselves to potentially dangerous situations in real life. Engineers can also use digital twins to simulate the impact of different maintenance schedules on the performance of a facility and identify the best schedule for maintaining optimal performance.
Identifying Patterns And Trends
Another key benefit of digital twins is their ability to use archived data to identify patterns and trends. In many cases supported by Artificial Intelligence (AI), engineers can use this data to identify recurring problems and develop solutions to prevent them in the future. Innovations that provide intelligent single-line diagrams (iSLD) that utilize digital twin technology in active blueprints of more complex power systems allow for easy collaboration and the application of real-time insights.
Digital twins can also analyze the impact of new equipment or changes to a facility on its overall performance, helping engineers to streamline diagnostics and make more informed decisions about upgrades and modifications. Connecting the iSLD with vendors can also assist in diagnosing specific performance characteristics more easily.
Increasing Overall Safety
Digital twins also improve operator competency and safety through real-world simulated learning. When learning how to operate new power systems, a training tool like an Operator Training Simulator (OTS) can help to harness real-time data from a digital twin in a safe offline environment for personnel training. Operators can develop a deeper understanding of an electrical system’s operation and predict system response by encountering various kinds of pre-defined scenarios and contingency plans through an OTS. This serves as a cost-effective way to reduce potential safety hazards before implementation.
Considerations For Investing In Digital Twins
Digital twin software is paving the way for significantly improved facility maintenance for those that are ready to invest in new technology. When deciding how to incorporate a digital twin, facility executives should use their understanding of their facility’s specific needs, capabilities, and limitations to ensure that the digital twin software they invest in is the right fit for their organization. For example, does the digital twin technology have strong data management security and governance structures in place to ensure accurate, reliable results that are protected from cyber threats? How is the life cycle of the digital twin being managed with what resources? These are key considerations to have when researching digital twin technology.
Advancing The Power Systems Industry
These next-generation predictive tools use real-time and archived data to act as a simulation platform and are becoming an essential tool for power systems engineers looking to optimize the performance of their facilities and prevent downtime. When fed with reliable, high-quality data digital twins enable a range of real-time insights that enhance quality, performance, and efficiency while adapting to ever-changing conditions and constraints.
It is forecasted that digital twins are set for rapid adoption in 2023, having tipped from highly specific applications into becoming a widespread management best practice. It’s important for facilities to embrace this crucial new technology and how their facility can benefit from it in the short and long-term.
Baumann is the Director of Strategic Initiatives & Solution Architect at Schneider Electric. He helps clients with their Industrial IoT and Microgrid initiatives that achieve greater resiliency and sustainability objectives, while creating economic benefits. Prior to this role, he supported the consulting and engineering community by advising on resource-optimized energy management solutions in the data center market.
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