Constructive Play with Digital Twins

Those of you who track hot topics will be familiar with the term “digital twin.” Those who have been too busy with work may want to read on and catch up.

What is a digital twin?

While there are several definitions of digital twin, here’s one that works well:

A digital twin is a dynamic virtual copy of a physical asset, process, system, or environment that looks like and behaves identically to its real-world counterpart. A digital twin ingests data and replicates processes so you can predict possible performance outcomes and issues that the real-world product might undergo. [Source: Unity.com]. For additional background, you might go to Mckinsey.com.

What is the difference between a digital twin (hereafter DT) and a model? Primarily, a DT gets connected to real-time data to maintain the model as an up-to-the-minute representation of the system you are working with.

Our current products might be called “slow-motion DT’s” because they are usually used with non-real-time data (though not stale data, since it is updated overnight) and applied to problems like planning the next quarter’s raw material buys or setting inventory parameters for a month or longer.

Are people using digital twins in my industry?

My impression is that the penetration of DT’s may be highest in the aerospace and nuclear industries. Most of our customers are elsewhere: in manufacturing, distribution, and public utilities such as transportation and power. Soon we’ll be offering new products that come closer to the strict definition of a DT that is connected intimately to the system it represents.

DT Preview

Most users of Smart Inventory Optimization (SIO) run the application periodically, typically monthly. SIO analyzes current demand for inventory items and recent supplier lead times, converting these into demand and supply scenarios, respectively. Then users either interactively (for individual items) or automatically (at scale) set inventory control parameters that will provide the long-term average performance they want, balancing the competing goals of minimizing inventory while guaranteeing a sufficient level of item availability.

Smart Supply Planner (SSP) operates in a more immediate way to react to contingencies. Any day could bring an anomalous order that spikes up demand, such as when a new customer places a surprising initial stocking order. Or a key supplier could experience a problem at its factory and be forced to delay shipment of your planned replenishment orders. In the long run, these contingencies average out and justify the recommendations coming out of SIO. However, SSP will give you a way to react in the short run to seize opportunities or dodge bullets.

At its core, SSP operates like SIO in that it is scenario driven. The differences are that it uses short planning horizons and uses real-time initial conditions as the basis for its simulations of inventory system performance. Then it will provide real-time recommendations for interventions that offset the disruption caused by the contingencies. These would include cancelling or expediting replenishment orders.

Summary

Digital twins let you try out plans “in silico” before you implement them in the factory or warehouse. At their core are mathematical models of your operation but connected to real-time data. They provide a “digital sandbox” in which you can try out ideas and get immediate predictions of how well they will work. Much more than a spreadsheet, DT’s will soon be the key tool in your inventory planning toolbox.

 

Prepare your spare parts planning for unexpected shocks

Did you know that it was Benjamin Franklin who invented the lightning rod to protect buildings from lightning strikes? Now, it’s not every day that we must worry about lightning strikes, but in today’s unpredictable business climate, we do have to worry about supply chain disruptions, long lead times, rising interest rates, and volatile demand. With all these challenges, it’s never been more vital for organizations to accurately forecast parts usage, stocking levels, and to optimize replenishment policies such as reorder points, safety stocks, and order quantities.  In this blog, we’ll explore how companies can leverage innovative solutions like inventory optimization and parts forecasting software that utilize machine learning algorithms, probabilistic forecasting, and analytics to stay ahead of the curve and protect their supply chains from unexpected shocks.

Spare Parts Planning Solutions
Spare parts optimization is a key aspect of supply chain management for many industries. It involves managing the inventory of spare parts to ensure they are available when needed without having excess inventory that can tie up capital and space. Optimizing spare parts inventory is a complex process that requires a deep understanding of usage patterns, supplier lead times, and the criticality of each part for the business.

In this blog, our primary emphasis will be on the crucial aspect of inventory optimization and demand forecasting. However, other approaches highlighted below for spare parts optimization, such as predictive maintenance and 3D printing, Master Data Management, and collaborative planning should be investigated and deployed as appropriate.

  1. Predictive Maintenance: Using predictive analytics to anticipate when a part is likely to fail and proactively replace it, rather than waiting for it to break down. This approach can help companies reduce downtime and maintenance costs, as well as improve overall equipment effectiveness.
  2. 3D printing: Advancements in 3D printing technology are enabling companies to produce spare parts on demand, reducing the need for excess inventory. This not only saves space and reduces costs but also ensures that parts are available when needed.
  3. Master Data Management: Data Management platforms ensure that part data is properly identified, cataloged, cleansed, and organized. All too often, MRO organizations hold the same part number under different SKUs. These duplicate parts serve the same purpose but require different SKU numbers to ensure regulatory compliance or security.  For example, a part used to support a government contract may be required be sourced from a US manufacturer to stay in compliance with “Buy America” regulations.  It’s critical that these part numbers be identified and consolidated into one SKU, when possible, to keep inventory investments in check.
  4. Collaborative Planning: Collaborating with suppliers and customers to share data, forecasts, and plan demand can help companies reduce lead times, improve accuracy, and reduce inventory levels. Forecasting plays an essential role in collaboration as sharing insights on purchases, demand, and buying behavior ensures suppliers have the information they need to ensure stock availability for customers.

Inventory Optimization
Abraham Lincoln was once quoted as saying, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”? Lincoln knew that preparation and optimization were key to success, just like organizations need to have the right tools, such as inventory optimization software, to optimize their supply chain and stay ahead in the market. With inventory optimization software, organizations can improve their forecasting accuracy, lower inventory costs, improve service levels, and reduce lead times. Lincoln knew that sharpening the axe was necessary to accomplish the job effectively without overexerting.  Inventory Optimization ensures that inventory dollars are allocated effectively across thousands of parts helping ensure service levels while minimizing excess stock.

Spare parts play a decisive role in maintaining operational efficiency, and the lack of critical parts can lead to downtime and reduced productivity. The sporadic nature of spare parts demand makes it difficult to predict when a specific part will be required, resulting in the risk of overstocking or understocking, both of which can incur costs for the organization.  Additionally, managing lead times for spare parts poses its own set of challenges. Some parts may have lengthy delivery times, necessitating the maintenance of adequate inventory levels to avoid shortages. However, carrying excess inventory can be costly, tying up capital and storage space.

Given the myriad of challenges facing materials management departments and spare parts planners, planning demand, stocking levels, and replenishment of spare parts without an effective inventory optimization solution is akin to attempting to chop down a tree with a very blunt axe! The sharper the axe, the better your organization will be able to contend with these challenges.

Smart Software’s Axe is the Sharpest
Smart Inventory Optimization and Demand Planning Software uses a unique empirical probabilistic forecasting approach that results in accurate forecasts of inventory requirements, even where demand is intermittent. Since nearly 90% of spare and service parts are intermittent, an accurate solution to handle this type of demand is required.   Smart’s solution was patented in 2001 and additional innovations were recently patented in May of 2023 (announcements coming soon!).  The solution was awarded as a finalist in the APICS Technological Innovation Category for its role in helping transform the resource management industry.

The Role of Intermittent Demand
Intermittent demand does not conform to a simple normal or bell-shaped distribution that makes it impossible to forecast accurately with traditional, smoothing-based forecasting methods.  Parts and items with intermittent demand – also known as lumpy, volatile, variable or unpredictable demand – have many zero or low-volume values interspersed with random spikes of demand that are often many times larger than the average. This problem is especially prevalent in companies that manage large inventories of service and spare parts in industries such as aviation, aerospace, power and water supply and utilities, automotive, heavy asset management, high tech, as well as in MRO (Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul).

Scenario Analysis
Smart’s patented and award-winning technology rapidly generates tens of thousands of possible scenarios of future demand sequences and cumulative demand values over an item’s lead time. These scenarios are statistically similar to the item’s observed data, and they capture the relevant details of intermittent demand without relying on the assumptions commonly made about the nature of demand distributions by traditional forecasting methods. The result is a highly accurate forecast of the entire distribution of cumulative demand over an item’s lead time. The bottom line is that with the information these demand distributions provide, companies can easily plan safety stock and service level inventory requirements for thousands of intermittently demanded items with nearly 100% accuracy.

Benefits
Implementing innovative solutions from Smart Software such as SmartForecasts for statistical forecasting, Demand Planner for consensus parts planning, and Inventory Optimization for developing accurate replenishment drivers such as min/max and safety stock levels will provide forward-thinking executives and planners with better control over their organization’s operations.  It will result in the following benefits:

  1. Improved Forecasting Accuracy: Accurate demand forecasting is fundamental for any organization that deals with spare parts inventory management. Inventory optimization software uses sophisticated algorithms to analyze historical usage patterns, identify trends and forecast future demand with a high degree of accuracy. With this level of precision in forecasting, organizations can avoid the risk of overstocking or understocking their spare parts inventory.
  2. Lower Inventory Costs: One major challenge that supply chain leaders face when dealing with spare parts inventory management is the cost associated with maintaining an optimal stock of spares at all times. By optimizing inventory levels using modern technology systems like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and predictive analytics, organizations can reduce carrying costs while ensuring they have adequate stocks available when needed.
  3. Improved Service Levels: When it comes to repair and maintenance services, time is money! Downtime due to the unavailability of critical spare parts can result in lost productivity and revenue for businesses across industries such as manufacturing plants, power generation facilities, or data centers managing IT infrastructure equipment. Optimizing your spare parts inventory ensures that you always have the right amount on hand, reducing downtime caused by waiting for deliveries from suppliers.
  4. Reduced Lead Times: Another benefit that accrues from accurate demand forecasting through modern warehouse technologies is reduced lead time in delivery which leads to better customer satisfaction since customers will receive their orders faster than before thus improving brand loyalty. Therefore, the adoption of new strategies driven by AI/ML tools creates value within supply chain operations leading to increased efficiency gains not only limited reductionism cost but also streamlining processes related to production scheduling, logistics transportation planning among others

Conclusion
Through the utilization of inventory optimization and demand planning software, organizations can overcome various challenges such as supply chain disruptions, rising interest rates, and volatile demand. This enables them to reduce costs associated with excess storage space and obsolete inventory items. By leveraging sophisticated algorithms, inventory optimization software enhances forecasting accuracy, ensuring organizations can avoid overstocking or under-stocking their spare parts inventory. Additionally, it helps lower inventory costs by optimizing levels and leveraging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and predictive analytics. Improved service levels are achieved as organizations have the right quantity of spare parts readily available, reducing downtime caused by waiting for deliveries. Furthermore, accurate demand forecasting leads to reduced lead times, enhancing customer satisfaction and fostering brand loyalty. Adopting such strategies driven by AI/ML tools not only reduces costs but also streamlines processes, including production scheduling and logistics transportation planning, ultimately increasing efficiency gains within the supply chain.

 

White Paper:

What you Need to know about Forecasting and Planning Service Parts

 

This paper describes Smart Software’s patented methodology for forecasting demand, safety stocks, and reorder points on items such as service parts and components with intermittent demand, and provides several examples of customer success.