Virtual production solutions for automation How can complex production processes be consistently simulated and safeguarded from the planning to the virtual commissioning?

Virtual production solutions for automation

While Industry 4.0 slowly takes hold in production processes, the digital factory has already been established for some time in a number of sectors. Corresponding software solutions for the digital factory already help companies to define, validate, simulate and optimize their productions processes to be efficient and cost-effective.

The virtual automation of production processes begins long before the start of production, i.e. in the early phase of layout definition and process planning. Then it extends from the selection of optimal production variants to the concrete engineering with detailed plant configuration and robot and machine simulation and offline programming.

Using mechatronic components and resources and with the schematic logic definition of the production cell or line, the exact behavior of the cell can be simplified considerably and, in particular, be defined and represented realistically. A digital twin defined in this manner can also be connected to the real control system. In this way, it can be ensured that the simulated and real behavior match, because the simulation is based on and closely related to the same logic used during the PLC programming. And this corresponds with the later real plant behavior.

There are not always layouts from standard components.

It is all the more important to also integrate assembly-specific components into existing layouts. Ideally, the software provides smart functions by means of which the layout can be supplemented with project-specific components.

Such open software infrastructures also enable a significantly simpler collaboration with engineering partners by means of a standardized, system-neutral data exchange of complete plant data or device data, including kinematic and logic definitions. The AML standard, among others, is suitable for this purpose. In addition, PLCOpen is available as a communications interface for connection of virtual or real plant and robot control systems.

A look at a real-world application

With fulfillment of the aforementioned criteria, the virtual plant model of CENIT's FASTSUITE Edition 2 can be used as a digital twin for early validation of the plant control system (PLC). This achieves, not lastly, significantly shortened project times.

FASTSUITE Edition 2 uses a "shared memory" approach for the simulation. The simulation data is written from the control system in this shared memory. The 3D visualization, in turn, loads this simulation data. This shared memory approach also makes it possible to replace the control system emulators used thus far during the acceptance phase with real control system components and thus to implement a PLC validation and virtual commissioning. Because the entire layout already consists of mechatronic simulation models, the linking of the digital plant model with software-in-the-loop or hardware-in-the-loop is advantageous. This allows the virtual model to be tested against the real controls before the real system is put into operation. Virtual commissioning supports parallel workflows between the plant engineering and software development and reduces thereby risks, errors and downtimes in production.

As soon as the production islands have been started up, the same virtual layout can be used to introduce new parts and products with the online programming functions. The time-consuming teach-in and the production interruptions that go with it are no longer needed.

Regardless of the applied solutions, one thing is certain:

Virtual process design and safeguarding offer clear potential for efficient design of production processes. Can you take advantageous of this? We would be glad to help you.

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