Digital Twins Bridge Gap Between Product Design and Manufacturing

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06 Jun, 2023

Digital Twins Bridge Gap Between Product Design and Manufacturing

Article #6 of Transforming Industrial Manufacturing with Industry 4.0 Series: Digital twins can bridge the gap between product design and manufacturing, enabling companies to simulate and optimize production processes.

This is the sixth article in a 7-part series featuring articles on Transforming Industrial Manufacturing with Industry 4.0. The series looks at technological developments and emerging trends in the manufacturing industry that drive growth and innovation. This series is sponsored by Mouser Electronics. Through their sponsorship, Mouser Electronics shares its passion and support for engineering advancements that enable a smarter, cleaner, safer manufacturing future.  

Digital twins (DTs) is a rapidly evolving technology that is changing the way products are designed and manufactured. By creating a virtual replica of a physical product or process, companies can simulate and optimize manufacturing processes before they are implemented in the real world. DTs is also an important tool for bridging the gap between product design and manufacturing, ensuring that products are built to exact specifications and reducing the risk of errors and defects. 

In this article, we will explore DTs and their role in bridging product design and manufacturing. We will discuss how DTs are being used in manufacturing to simulate and optimize production processes, leading to improved reliability, efficiency, and quality.


An underlying premise in product manufacturing is that tasks are broken into two categories: (1) The most efficient use of physical resources and (2) physical resource waste. Lean manufacturing has enabled manufacturers to reduce the time within the production system as well as response times from suppliers and customers. 

Aspects of Industry 4.0 have enhanced manufacturing efficiencies by shortening the time between discovering and fixing problems in real-time. These and related advances have improved efficiencies, but ever-increasing demands for speed, quality, lower costs, and customization are driving manufacturers to find new ways to meet these needs.

The use of DTs is emerging as a solution that bridges the gap between design and manufacturing, with long-term potential to maximize efficiency and minimize waste. 

Gaps between Design and Manufacturing

Even today, with advanced engineering and manufacturing capabilities, it is common for products to be well-designed but ultimately not manufacturable. For example, a design may specify a 2-cm wall between compartments to meet harsh environmental requirements, but the manufacturer may not be able to manufacture this thickness or work with the alloy the design specifies due to technical limitations, availability challenges of the material, economic constraints or various other possible reasons. Similarly, a design may specify a single bar with a groove in it to be made using subtractive manufacturing, but the manufacturer can create the groove only by using a single bar with two other bars welded on top of the first. Manufacturability issues can arise even in the most unexpected situations.

Part of the problem is that design engineering and manufacturing have become siloed phases of the product life cycle, each with its own requirements and information. Rather than manufacturability being part of engineering design, the teams and processes are separate and sequential, with designers not getting a full view of the manufacturing capabilities, limitations, and requirements they need.

Manufacturing design guidelines help bridge this gap, but they are not a panacea. As with other areas of the product life cycle, guidelines and best practices continue to evolve to meet rapidly-changing customer demands. Similarly, transparency into existing components and products used in design may not be available or may be outdated.

Product modeling and simulation tools have advanced design engineering considerably, but they are limited in terms of design manufacturability, too. Simulations replicate products in their current state, which limits designers’ ability to test different configurations, components, and materials without building additional models. Even aggregated simulation data are rooted in testing history, and simulation results may not be accurate because human input and assumptions are part of the simulation equation.

As a result, product designs may meet functional requirements but ultimately not be manufacturable —or at least manufacturable in a way that meets cost or delivery demands. And so, an extended back-and-forth between designers and manufacturers addresses manufacturability issues but wastes considerable resources even before production begins.

Digital Twins: The Bridge to Manufacturability

Over the past several years, the use of DTs has increased across a broad swath of industries, including aerospace, automotive, shipbuilding, oil rigs, and medical devices. The idea of a DT is to be able to design, test, manufacture, and support products using virtual reality before any work is done with the hardware in the physical environment.

DTs are the digital counterparts of physical objects and processes in real-time. The DT is a computer program that simulates how a product or process will perform based on real-world data. Data scientists, engineers, and IT professionals can run cost-effective simulations to optimize a physical asset's state, predict its response to changes, or improve operations. 

Additionally, DTs can be used to identify potential flaws early in the design phase of an object or process. Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things, Industry 4.0, Big Data, and software analytics can all be utilized to enhance the output of DTs. Product drawings and engineering specifications have evolved from handmade drawings to computer-assisted designs to model-based systems and now to DTs.

High-Quality Prototyping with Digital Twins

Among many efficiency gains that span the entire product life cycle, DTs can help bridge the divide between design and manufacturing. A DT prototype (DTP) is akin to a product recipe that includes all the design pieces that would go into a complete product but in digital form, including the product’s physical attributes, properties, physics, computational flow, operating parameters, test procedures, bill of materials, and manufacturing bill of process.

The DTP is the most realistic representation of in-development products, and it can be handled and manipulated at various levels of granularity —at the part, product, or whole-system level. The result is a level of detail about manufacturability that enables designers to account for the many interdependencies between the two functional areas. What’s more, a DTP’s algorithmic engine can extrapolate how changes in design, materials, and components affect manufacturability, eliminating the need for multiple physical prototypes.

Digital Twins Help Take Better Manufacturing Process Decisions

DTs can also model manufacturing processes and help guide design decisions that have manufacturing implications. For instance, DTs can determine whether additive or subtractive processes would be better from cost, functionality, and durability standpoints. 

They can further represent the variety of processes used to manufacture complete products —injection molding, broaching, turning, machining, or any number of others. For additive manufacturing to become a dominant manufacturing process, DTs are a core requirement.

Bridging the Gap to Customization and Personalization

Finally, DTs not only bridge today’s design-manufacturing gaps, but are also the bridge to future needs. For instance, today’s customers are demanding product options and personalization as part of core product offerings, which pose additional manufacturing headaches in terms of manufacturing setup, materials inventory, time to market, and more. 

There are no limits to how many DTs can be produced during initial or subsequent design processes. Further, information gained throughout a product’s life cycle can be used to determine future customized and personalized products —and their manufacturability.


Gaps between engineering design and product manufacturing can result in significant waste even before manufacturing begins. DTPs have enormous potential to close these gaps and optimize designs for manufacturing and beyond. Creating DTs is not inexpensive, but the cost of information is still far lower than the cost of creating multiple physical prototypes or manufacturing by trial and error. In the quest to meet increasing demands for good, fast, cheap, and customized products, using DTs across the entire product life cycle will be the way to meet tomorrow’s manufacturing demands.

This article is based on: Digital Twins: Bridge Product Design and Manufacturing, a blog by Mouser Electronics. It has been substantially edited by the Wevolver team and Electrical Engineer Ravi Y Rao. It's the sixth article from the Transforming Industrial Manufacturing with Industry 4.0 Series. Future articles will introduce readers to some more trends and technologies transforming industrial automation.

The introductory article presented the different topics covered in the Transforming Industrial Manufacturing with Industry 4.0 Series.

The first article discusses Sensor Fusion, PLCs, Low-Power Components, and Vision Systems and their impact on the progression of Manufacturing 4.0.

The second article examines the expanding and evolving roles of systems, process, and design engineers within the design chain of bringing new industrial automation products to fruition.

The third article takes a look at the development of smart factories, their characteristics, benefits, and challenges that need to be addressed for a successful digital transformation.

The fourth article focuses on technologies like Robot Operating Systems, edge computing, and new software solutions that are improving robotics in industrial and commercial environments.

The fifth article explores some challenges in accessing information in the manufacturing sector and how AI-driven AR has the potential to overcome them.

The sixth article explains how digital twins are helping bridge the gap between design and manufacturing.

The seventh article how manufacturing environments are adapting to the evolving customer needs and expectations.

About the sponsor: Mouser Electronics

Mouser Electronics is a worldwide leading authorized distributor of semiconductors and electronic components for over 1,200 manufacturer brands. They specialize in the rapid introduction of new products and technologies for design engineers and buyers. Their extensive product offering includes semiconductors, interconnects, passives, and electromechanical components.

More about Michael Grieves

Dr. Michael Grieves, an expert in Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), has authored seminal books on PLM, including “Product Lifecycle Management: Driving the Next Generation of Lean Thinking” and "Virtually Perfect: Driving Innovative and Lean Products through Product Lifecycle Management," and is a...