The digital twin in material development

blog - the digital twin in material development
For many companies, the days of handwritten records and Excel are still the norm. However, digitalization could enable new approaches in industrial material development. 
Companies that have taken the plunge know this.
Intransparency and inefficiency in material testing

In material development, every experiment and every recipe should be recorded, as this is the only way to evaluate, check and reproduce the results. If the company develops a product with similar properties at a later date, the developers only need to search for old recipes.

So much for the theory. The level of digitalization required for this may be obvious, but as always, the devil is in the detail. Often, employees still document using different systems and approaches, either handwritten in a lab notebook or in a spreadsheet. For employees looking for these data, the information is often hard to read and almost impossible to find. This is particularly difficult for processing a complaint a year later. The outcome is that the employee requires a lot of time for finding and digesting the data. Time that could just as easily be invested in other activities.

When will digitization arrive?

The basis for a digital data management system lies in the consolidating all information in one place: from measuring devices, measured values to material data and production parameters. The team feeds all data generated from the pilot plant and material testing laboratory into the system. This standardization ensures that the data is both comprehensible and searchable for every employee. “With LabV, every sample has a digital twin,” explained the Head of Development, responsible for researching new plastic formulations for special applications. “Using a unique identification number, employees can find out everything they need to know about the sample without having to dig through any lists or documents.” At the touch of a button, every employee can see when which sample was produced from which raw materials and which test plan is behind each experiment. The idea is to make material development faster and more efficient. In addition, there is a clear transparency as to who did what in the laboratory. Questions about a particular sample can therefore be answered quickly and easily. In the event of queries, the employee knows exactly who to contact.

And there are other benefits: “In our industry, many employees will soon reach retirement age. When they leave us, the data and information must remain available to others. And when news colleague join us, they should be able to get started as smoothly as possible – that’s no longer a problem with LabV,” explained the Head of Development.

Connecting measuring devices with ease

The most important step is a standardized database and defined processes for recording data. This allows material developers to easily use the measurement results from different experiments for comprehensive analyses. The challenge is to connect as many measuring devices as possible , which then automatically feed in the comprenensive database. This is often a problem with CAQ and LIMS systems. Integration with various devices from different manufacturers is usually complex and is tantamount to a major IT project that devours massive IT resources. This is not the case with platforms such as LabV, making it easier for companies to introduce the software. “We had expected that the introduction of a data management software and the connection of all devices would be a complex IT project. We had to convince IT that this was not the case.”

The first step is often the biggest challenge, as the Head of Development confirmed: “We were aware that digitalization was urgent and necessary in order to remain competitive. But at first, we didn’t know where to start.” Workshops with a platform provider are often the first step.

The comprehensive database that was created now helps the company to find correlations in the data that the developers would otherwise never have noticed. “Now we can learn from previous development work. This makes the development of new products faster,” explained the Head of Development. “For example, we can recognize how certain properties of the polymers can be achieved with which formulations. We find relationships in the data that we would never have noticed otherwise.”

The future is at reach

The conclusion from the development lab: the introduction of a new data management system has paid off. Now they hope that the AI lab assistant won’t be long in coming. Such an all-encompassing data infrastructure creates the basis for an AI-supported laboratory assistant. “Achieving more and more with fewer and fewer resources. This is only possible if you break new ground with recent developments such as AI,” said the Head of Development.

Name and company anonymized for confidentiality reasons.

Do you want to stay uptodate on newest trends and topics?

Sign-up with our newsletter. 

EN