IDE Online Magazine Abril 2017 - Page 167

simulation and analysis software programmes as well as virtual 1:1 copies of real machine and equipment control software. Based on such software tools digital twins map the complete manufacturing process including components, machines, plants and their controls as a virtual model – complete with all the physical data required for the simulation.

In addition to this, digital twins permit offline programming. All of this makes virtual twins universal tools for developers, operators and maintenance staff.

Thanks to these near-reality simulations design errors and/or weak spots can already be detected and eliminated in the development stage without having manufactured a single real part beforehand. This also applies to the programming and optimising of controls.

One of the most important applications, however, is virtual commissioning or start-up. This is not only a virtual trial run but also serves to familiarise the operator in charge of the machine with the properties and possibilities of the system in a targeted manner. In other words: the digital twin is the “flight simulator” for industrial processes, machinery and equipment. The virtual pre-start up before the real commissioning pays off in more ways than one. Should there still be any bugs in the system or control concept, they can be remedied without causing damage to real system components. Offline programming, in turn, allows production planners to virtually test various operating modes. The most important aspect, however, is that the virtual twin brings together the expertise of many specialists, which can later also be used for other projects.

In a nutshell: thanks to the sophisticated simulations plant manufacturers and users can achieve significantly shorter project leadtimes, faster start-ups and marked efficiencies for the development of similar plants and processes. This saves time but above all resources, energy and manpower.

Standardised Interfaces a Must

Standardisation continues to be a major challenge because most machinery producers still rely on their own interfaces. However, integration is the decisive feature in the Internet of Things. This integration requires especially consistent data and information exchange between machines – both vertically and horizontally. And this makes open standard protocols necessary. Therefore, there is a trend towards Open Source solutions since these offer high security of investment and independence being non-proprietary systems. One example is the OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA), a package of specifications for linking machines of various manufacturers. OPC UA ensures security through authentication and authorisation, encryption and data integrity.

This means OPC UA is ideally suited for a safe, reliable and non-proprietary transport of raw data and pre-processed information from the manufacturing level to superior production planning or ERP systems.

Even Old Systems can Handle 4.0

Many older machines, lines, motors and compressors are not equipped with the sensors and communication technology for Industry 4.0 – sometimes not even for operation as part of networked systems. This does not mean that these systems are obsolete in view of digital transformation. Here – as an entry-level solution for Industry 4.0 – smart sensors can be retrofitted. They regularly measure important condition parameters of the machines and systems and transmit the data via built-in communication interfaces wirelessly to the HMIs and/or employees’ smartphones or tablet PCs for evaluation. With these and other simple methods companies can enter the world of Industry 4.0 inexpensively and still benefit from reduced downtimes, longer machine uptimes as well as lower power consumption and the like.