Opening a New Era for Solar Manufacturing with the Industrial Metaverse

Automation Fair 2022 Recap

Kalypsonian Brian Ding joined our client First Solar at this year’s Automation Fair to discuss their digital transformation journey. First Solar is the largest solar manufacturer in the Western Hemisphere.  One of our goals with them was to create a superior digital representation of its brand-new greenfield facility in Ohio. By leveraging digital twin capabilities, First Solar is using this digital model to maximize throughput, lowered overall production cost and commissioning equipment faster and with less risk. This will allow First Solar to ramp up its new factory faster, meet demand and maintain leadership in the industry. Among other benefits, they have been able to virtually test equipment as well as predict and prevent operational disruption.

What Can Digital Twin Capabilities Do For Your Organization?

Digital twins provide teams with the ability to virtually perform activities such as design validation, throughput analysis, and equipment testing. These activities may not be advisable, or even possible, in the physical world. Manual calculations or physical testing can also be inaccurate as well as time-consuming. Without digital twin capabilities, trying to predict all possible outcomes from different variables is overwhelming and nearly impossible for organizations.

As organizations look to improve and increase their manufacturing capacity with digital technologies, it’s also important for them to invest their efforts and resources in technologies that can scale up. A technology shouldn’t be implemented just for one factory or product but should be able to grow with an organization’s needs.

To simulate and emulate an entire factory, your organization can first start small and then build from there. For example, start with the material handling system and then add different systems until you’ve built a virtual world of an entire facility, including equipment, material, and people. This virtual world, or industrial metaverse, can enable your organization to access all types of information. The industrial metaverse will require different types of technology, along with digital twins, and the benefits are astonishing. Imagine being able to go both forward and backward in time through a process to understand how each step impacted the result. Your team can travel to dangerous locations, like oil rigs, virtually or virtually test things that are hard to test in the physical world.

Lessons Learned

For your organization to implement a successful digital technology, such as a digital twin, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • First, define clear outcomes and objectives, and then validate activities against them. It’s easy for people to get lost in the weeds or stuck on a single issue.
  • Consider the resourcing needs of upfront engineering and continued support. No digital twin can be successful if you outsource it and don’t get the organization on board. Underestimating the number of human resources needed can set the initiative up to fail.
  • Use different capabilities simultaneously (for example, simulation and emulation).

Getting Started

If you haven’t started on a digital transformation journey at your organization yet, but want to gain internal support to do so, identify high-value use cases to catalyze organizational support by showing how they will generate tangible benefits for your organization.

Want to learn more? Check out our Automation Fair ROK Studio session with Kalypso and Rockwell’s George Young and First Solar’s Jay Mehta.