4 minute read 4 Dec 2019
Three women walking in a factory shop

How a digital twin can model product life cycle management complexity

By EY Global

Ernst & Young Global Ltd.

4 minute read 4 Dec 2019

By mapping and building a complete virtual model of the manufacturing process and product life cycle, an enterprise can increase creativity and innovation.

We are living in a rapidly changing world. Our environment is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA). This VUCA world has significant impacts on the way we design, manufacture and manage products:

  • Volatility from product personalization efforts and new market players 
  • Uncertainty concerning market developments and planning for the worst case while striving for the best-case — at the same time
  • Complexity from increasing globalization, market regulations and diversifying ecosystems
  • Ambiguity regarding the impact of global events and the sustainability of established business models

All of these disruptors can lead to hesitation and fearfulness in how leaders operate their businesses. To stay competitive, enterprises must become lean, agile and digital. They also need to develop from product-oriented into project-driven companies.

Modeling complexity with a digital twin

The concept of the “digital twin” — a fully functioning virtual model of a physical piece of machinery or system — is established in many sectors. There are some well-known applications in predictive maintenance, where machinery such as passenger jet engines and construction equipment that is rented out, are fitted with multiple sensors that ping data to the digital twin to monitor wear on components.

Digital design and modeling is a fairly new trend in manufacturing site planning. It can help drive decisions about how to lay out the shop floor or anticipate health and safety issues, such as workers’ movements.

But in manufacturing itself, the digital twin is embryonic, and it can help move organizations into the future. The earlier they adopt the development of a digital twin, the faster they’ll get there.

With a digital twin, your own manufacturing facilities can be set up for greater experimentation with product development teams. Processes can be modeled, and modifications can be made based on hundreds if not thousands of “what-if” scenarios in terms of raw materials, product design, development, manufacturing, packaging and more.

Here are four key benefits in setting up a digital twin to manage and model complexity:

  1. Enablement of co-development and co-creation: New ideas and approaches can be tested and iterated quickly with outside firms. For example, in R&D, new ideas and technologies don’t have to be developed in-house — start-ups can be incorporated and the joint IP can be taken to market when it reaches maturity.
  2. New opportunities for changing the product mix: For example, a company could offer 80% of its products for customization within set parameters (just as we can configure the engines, color and trim of cars online) and 20% as totally unique, personalized configurations modeled quickly in the digital twin. This can pave the way for individualized medicines, which require manufacturing line changes for every single batch of production.
  3. New core IP: Manufacturing technologies and development will become part of new business models. The digital twin can enable collaboration across the globe, for example, with product designers “sending to print” short-run products. Or the digital twin could provide more accurate cost estimates for production by modeling a new manufacturing process.
  4. Faster reactions: Breaking down the product life cycle into modular building blocks can help companies make small changes quickly. For example, updates to pharmaceutical regulations mean both documentation and production need to be amended quickly — and the digital twin allows faster tweaks to the process rather than a complete overhaul.
The earlier manufacturers adopt the development of a digital twin, the faster they’ll get to the future.
Dr. Adrian Reisch
EY Global Product Lifecycle Management leader

Orienting toward the future

Companies always need to protect their existing core business while preparing for the future by running both efforts on a parallel track. So, to begin embracing complexity and become project-driven, there are three key questions that companies should consider:

  • Should we combine product and manufacturing development?
  • When and how do we create a digital twin for manufacturing processes? For example, new factories and processes are easier to map in a digital twin than long-established production lines.
  • How do we fit our existing manufacturing and product knowledge into the digital twin?

There’s usually no escape from complexity. The trick, however, is to build the tools and processes to manage whatever comes next in a lean and agile fashion. Modeling your product life cycle management and manufacturing processes in the digital twin is one step to having the ability to cope with whatever disruption and complexity comes your way and staying two steps ahead of competitors.


Modeling your product life cycle management, manufacturing processes, and end-to-end supply chain processes in the digital twin is one step to managing whatever disruption comes your way.

About this article

By EY Global

Ernst & Young Global Ltd.