Leveraging Virtual Twins for Manufacturing Excellence

As the technology landscape continues to evolve, manufacturers have been forced to optimize their processes by implementing digital tools. Automation technology provider CenterLine (Windsor) Limited of Canada has been blazing new trails in this landscape for nearly seven decades. As one of the leading manufacturers of advanced joining and assembly technologies, this vertically integrated company’s ongoing mission is to offer its customers cutting-edge, automated solutions for resistance welding, metal forming and coating, fastener clinching, and other metalworking operations.

Navigating Success

Considering its long history, CenterLine has implemented many technological advancements over the years, pioneering new approaches to maintain its competitive edge and then extending the resulting benefits to its diverse customer base. But over the last two decades in particular, CenterLine has expanded its focus from the delivery of custom cells and small machines to large, integrated systems, aligning with the industry’s overall shift toward automation.

To better navigate this constantly evolving landscape, CenterLine was among the early adopters of a relatively recent yet transformative technology — the digital twin (also referred to as the virtual twin).

A virtual twin is just as its name describes: a virtual representation of a physical object, the process used to produce it, or a large system such as a manufacturing plant or even a city. It enables the simulation of these products and processes as well as their behavior in a controlled virtual environment. For instance, virtual twins allow manufacturers to evaluate product performance long before the products are made. They can optimize manufacturing and assembly operations and predict potential failures in advances, resulting in improved efficiency, productivity, quality, and significant cost savings.

Because of these benefits, virtual twin use has moved from being a niche to a necessity for many manufacturing companies, and as many of them are finding, it delivers a crucial competitive advantage. Recognizing this, CenterLine decided to retool its processes and robotic work cell designs using digital simulation. After kicking the virtual tires on numerous systems, they adopted DELMIA solutions powered by Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE platform.

Why Twin?

CenterLine, for example, has found that the virtual twin allows them to better visualize and optimize robot movements, improving efficiency and avoiding robot collisions. It also helps deliver improvements to production floor layouts, streamlining material movements while enhancing safety and ergonomics for its workers.

According to one of the company’s engineering team leads, the virtual twin helps them to visualize and conceptualize designs before being sent to the manufacturing floor, giving employees the opportunity to “resolve issues upfront and get the product out right the first time.”

“This preemptive strategy of utilizing virtual twins in manufacturing processes has yielded countless benefits. By simulating robot work cells, CenterLine reported a decrease in tooling-related issues and rework by up to 90 percent and a reduction in programming time on the factory floor by as much as 75 percent. Such drastic improvements underscore the transformational potential of virtual twin technology.

With its broad customer base — among them original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), Tier 1 and 2 suppliers, and machinery integrators across various industries — CenterLine’s digital approach to factory operations and product development is being recognized as a powerful tool. Notably, the company has found that its clients are not only seeking productive, high-quality equipment, but also automated, highly optimized systems that ensure operational competitiveness and sustainability. The virtual twin helps to ensure that these needs among others are met.

In addition to improving shop floor operations, CenterLine uses the virtual twin to aid in offline programming and simulation. Because engineers can now send “right the first time” programs to the factory floor — and do so without lengthy testing on physical resources — they have achieved substantial time savings during the commissioning phase. This approach also increases flexibility since changes to robotic instructions can be made quickly without disrupting production.

The Digital Showcase

CenterLine also leverages virtual twin technology to showcase innovative products and solutions to customers, offering them a virtual glimpse into the future. They can visually illustrate the design concepts and demonstrate how these innovations can bolster the customer’s industry standing.

Using the GUI of DELMIA Robotics Arc Welding, CenterLine automatically generates robot arc welding tool paths based on the geometric design of the seam to be welded. (Image: CenterLine)

The shift to virtual twin technology is not without its challenges, though, and typically demands a knowledgeable technology partner. In CenterLine’s case, the engineering team recently worked with AVENTEC, a Dassault Systèmes partner and VIAS3D company, to upgrade its virtual twin software platform to the most current release. This resulted in productivity gains of around 10-15 percent over the legacy platform.

Other benefits of the virtual twin include supporting CenterLine’s arc welding projects with simulation and programming tools. Simulation helps maintain welding parameters within specified limits and communicates any necessary deviations accurately, aiding in streamlining the process and enabling informed decision-making, said an employee, adding that “Through simulation, we’ve cut the number of tooling and design iterations from six to just two or three, reducing time to market by at least 15-20 percent.”

According to CenterLine, the virtual twin has revolutionized the process of simulating arc welding cells. Through a graphical interface, the system generates precise arc trajectories and provides detailed reports for customers, specifying the welding angles, parameters, and expected outcomes. Customers can visualize and understand the welding process in advance, ensuring that team members can meet productivity targets and project deadlines.

Simulation allows CenterLine to transfer robot system programs to the factory floor and the robot without tying up physical resources on the floor. (Image: CenterLine)

Single Source

One of biggest wins for CenterLine, however, has been the single source of truth that the virtual twin provides. There are no more disconnected islands of information, nor duplication of efforts. A virtual twin can accommodate a wide variety of CAD data imports from customers, irrespective of the format, and utilize real-time data from external ERP and MES systems. This interoperability has proven invaluable, particularly in a complex manufacturing ecosystem where data-driven decisions are paramount.

CenterLine is not alone, and many industry experts have noted a fundamental shift in the way companies perceive the use of simulation in manufacturing. The company’s experience underscores that the digital simulation of robotic systems can drastically reduce project completion time, often cutting it in half. This approach allows the design, build, and manufacturing process to occur upfront in the digital world, leading to more predictable and efficient outcomes.

Through digital system building and simulation, manufacturers can demonstrate their ability to deliver projects successfully and meet customer requirements with precision and efficiency. The virtual twin also streamlines the planning process by providing the information needed to make decisions more quickly and accurately. In summary, the virtual twin offers significant advantages to companies of all kinds, automated or not. Manufacturers and their customers can more easily reduce costs, meet tight timelines, enhance productivity, and provide everyone with a high level of confidence.

CenterLine’s successful adoption of the virtual twin showcases the technology’s tremendous potential for the automation industry. As virtual twin technology continues to evolve, it will disrupt industries even further, redefining how we design and build products, service customers, and generally improve everything about manufacturing.

This article was written by Mike Bradford, Strategic Business Development and Marketing Director, DELMIA, Dassault Systèmes (Waltham, MA). For more information, visit here .