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How SATS is using digital twin tech to improve operations

Singapore-based SATS has been using a digital twin platform to model food production processes to improve in-flight catering operations

Digital twins, or virtual representations of the real world, have been touted to help enterprises simulate business processes to streamline operations and reduce waste, or to improve traffic flows in the case of urban planning.

In Singapore, the government has tapped the technology to create Virtual Singapore, a large-scale model of the city-state, that will enable businesses, government and research agencies to run simulations to solve a variety of problems, such as crowd management.

Despite security concerns that Virtual Singapore could be used by terrorists to plot attacks, digital twin technology has proven to be useful in the private sector, as SATS, a ground handling and in-flight catering service provider, has found.

The Singapore-based company recently implemented a cloud-based digital twin platform from Dassault Systèmes to create a 3D digital twin of a virtual kitchen that pairs virtual and physical operations.

Part of its aim was to capture decades of operational knowhow locked in the minds of its workers to improve the productivity of in-flight catering operations and to reduce food waste, said SATS’ chief digital officer Albert Pozo.

“For a number of years, we have accumulated knowhow like ideas for recipes and cooking practices that position us uniquely as an airline caterer,” he said in an interview with Computer Weekly.

“Through the digital twin, we are digitising this knowhow to turn intangible assets into tangible assets that generate value for our company as we expand in Singapore and overseas,” said Pozo.

New business opportunities

But more importantly, by digitising its operational knowhow, SATS has been able to optimise its deployment of people, resources and capital as it seeks new business opportunities and operating models.

For one thing, by collecting data about production processes and ingredients – and simulating food production using the digital twin – SATS has improved capacity planning and production scheduling, prevented bottlenecks and enhanced productivity.

It is also able to better forecast ingredient usage in its large-batch food production to reduce food wastage. “We wanted to group the production of some ingredients, and the digital twin helped us to validate some of the key resource changes that needed to be made,” said Pozo.

Like its counterparts in industrial production, SATS is also assessing the possibility of automating food manufacturing processes. Using the digital twin, the company was able to validate the expected increase in output that could result from automation.

Having tasted success, SATS has extended the use of the digital twin platform to model passenger footfall at the Marina Bay Cruise Centre Singapore that it operates together with a Spanish terminal operator.

“We wanted to know the best and the most efficient way out of the terminal, because after a cruise ship comes in, we’ll have a huge amount of traffic at once,” said Pozo. “We definitely need to optimise the layout of the terminal.”

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At Singapore Changi Airport, SATS is now looking to model its ground operations, particularly in cargo handling and its use of equipment and warehouses, using the digital twin platform.

“With limited space at the airport, we need to find ways to store and manage our growing cargo loads, and to optimise the use of cargo handling equipment,” said Pozo.

With potentially vast amounts of data that could be collected through digital twin projects, Dassault Systèmes works with companies like SATS to understand their requirements and to limit the scope of a project to the areas that matter most.

“It’s hard to do everything all at once, and it’s hard to do everything very deeply,” said Masaki Sox Konno, managing director for Asia-Pacific South at Dassault Systèmes. “We start off with what means the most for the customer, then we deploy that with scalability and different data points.”

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