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The supply chain in housing is deeply entrenched in decades, or even centuries, of history a stubborn resistance to change. The variety of stakeholders in the supply chain each have specific, and sometimes competing, priorities, which can make the chain seem broken. Here, GE explores the value of digitizing the process to evaluate and analyze changes that would take too much time in the real world and maybe not even provide enough perspective.

Digital twins allow engineers to create a virtual model of a part, a machine or a process. GE already deploys more than a million digital twins to make other aspects of its business more productive, using them to build more efficient wind turbines and to determine when jet engines need servicing.

But by applying digital twin technology to the large, lengthy and complicated supply chain processes, GE and BHGE are breaking new ground. For the most part, supply chains have been deterministic in nature, meaning that outcomes were planned based on predetermined calculations that might be updated monthly or quarterly. But in reality, supply chains never operate as planned — too many factors, such as changes in lead times for supplies and part delays, impact how they function on a daily basis.

With digital twin technology, engineers can manage and track the supply chain from the beginning of a project to the end with a single analytical system that’s viewed in real time and continually updated.

Annarita Giani, a complex systems scientist with GE Global Research, says that before digital twin technology, it might have taken engineers weeks or months to manually gather and analyze information related to a supply chain problem. If a solution was found, it was often obsolete because it was based on already antiquated data. With digital twins, plans are continuously updated and instantly shared across multiple organizations, giving engineers and materials managers the ability to solve an issue as soon as it arises.

“We can see what needs to be seen and optimize the process from order to delivery,” Giani says. She would know. She worked closely with business leaders from BHGE, including packaging, assembly and materials managers Andrea Tirinnanzi, Giuseppe Severi and Antonio Cometti. “Without their commitment and expertise, the digital twin engineer-to-order project would simply not have been possible,” Giani adds.

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