Creating a Digital Twin of Entire Facilities Enables Mars Inc.’s Staff to Meet Operational Challenges Head-on

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By Michael Larner | 4Q 2022 | IN-6731

Mars Inc. continues its partnerships with Accenture and Microsoft to support its digital transformation plans. The company’s latest milestone is the ability to create a digital twin of entire facilities to help optimize performance on the factory floor. However, its success is as much about the company’s culture as it is about the technology deployed.

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Not Just Twinning Machinery


Consumer packaged goods manufacturer Mars Inc. (Mars) is continuing its work with Accenture and Microsoft to create and scale digital twins that can be utilized across all the company’s manufacturing facilities. The difference in the October 2022 announcement is that—in addition to creating virtual machines and production lines—the companies are creating representations of entire sites.

Building Expertise Gradually


Mars—whose brands include Ben’s Original, Cesar Canine Cuisine, Dove, M&M’S, Snickers, Pedigree, Royal Canin, and Whiskas—announced its annual sales of US$45 billion in June 2022. Mars’s partnerships with Accenture and Microsoft are the cornerstone of the company’s plans to improve its manufacturing facilities, grow revenues, and improve the firm’s sustainability.

Since 2020, Mars has been working with Accenture’s Industry X Group deploying the Azure Digital Twins Internet of things platform across the firm’s 160 manufacturing across the globe (see AN-5425). Staff use the digital twins to predict and run simulations for validation prior to adjusting production lines, such as process controls, to make changes to the equipment of production processes.

One such example took place at a factory in Illinois when there were concerns over filling packages on the production line. Having received sensor data from the machinery and utilized predictive analytics on the data collected, the digital twin provided an overview of the machine’s performance and enabled line operators to tweak the filling process.

The plan is for the companies to create the “Factory of the Future” where digital twins are created in Azure, ingesting disparate data sets and applying artificial intelligence on the data emanating from the facility to further automate processes and utilize robotics. Further, the latest iterations of the digital twins will help Mars work toward its sustainability goals—including improvement of water stewardship at facilities and reduction of overall waste and greenhouse gas emissions.

Many other manufacturers are just experimenting with creating a digital twin of a machine or single production line. Mars is much further ahead, not only in creating twins in Azure but also scaling the capability across all its facilities by working with Accenture.

Deploying Digital Twins Is As Much Culture As It Is Technology


Mars has prioritized digital transformation since 2017, and today the digital road map focuses on user-centricity for the deployed technologies, using data analytics to solve problems and looking to automation to ensure solutions scale.

The strategy has provided factory line operators with real-time insights concerning current and predictive performance and in so doing enables accelerated decision making across the factory floor. Mars encourages its staff to adopt the Five Principles in their work—quality, responsibility, mutuality, efficiency, and freedom. To improve quality and efficiency levels and to give staff the responsibility and freedom, the company has trained over 30,000 employees of its 133,000 employees globally on data analytics.

Digital transformation is not just about deploying cutting-edge technologies to be successful. It is also about aligning technologies with corporative goals and ensuring that staff not only can use the technologies but also are encouraged to explore how the technologies can improve their work. Employees need to perceive the technological investments as an opportunity to learn rather than as a threat to their jobs.

Coupled with upskilling staff, Mars can deliver plans thanks to long-term partnerships with key suppliers such as Accenture and Microsoft. Digital transformation is not a single project but series of operational improvements, and the three-way partnership Mars has established over the years is one way to continuously deliver over the longer term. The experience gained from working on small-scale digital twins has enabled all parties to build digital twins across all the facilities at speed. Further, the process suggests that the digital twin deployment process is not smooth enough that a company can employ it on its own.

ABI Research (in PT-2585) has outlined the intense challenges consumer packaged goods firms are currently facing, including securing raw materials and accommodating increased costs, and Mars’s ability to simulate tweaks to the operations of an entire facility—thanks to digital twins—means that such improvements can become a reality much sooner than those of their competitors.


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