What is actually Virtual Commissioning?
Virtual Commissioning allows a validation, optimization and commissioning of a production line through simulation, without the need to have the real elements installed.
With all this, the proposal can be modelled to not only verify the code of the different elements, but also to find the weaknesses or bottlenecks of the designed proposal and correct them in an iterative process of optimization where the final customer can intervene (hay que buscar una alternativa a intervene). In this way, a much more robust product is obtained, with much more guarantees of quality and success than in the initial design proposal, thus providing an added value, which for the moment, cannot be achieved in any other way.
How does Virtual Commissioning work?
Virtual Commissioning is based on three pillars:
1. Digital Twin:
This is the digital model of the line to be modelled. These virtual replicas are used to make simulations before they are created and implemented in the final product, as well as to collect data to predict how they will work.
It includes all mechanisms and actuators involved in the sensors of any physical quantity that extracts information from the line. It also refers to the product: from the individual components to the finished product and all the possible variants.
2. Offline programming of hardware:
The programmable elements involved are usually mainly PLCs and Robots. This code is the one that will be debugged to ensure that it is free of errors and full of functionalities before the integration in plant during the final process.
3. Execution environment:
This is the digital development environment that unifies all the physical programming and modelling platforms so that they can coexist and interact with each other. This platform has the capacity to interpret the offline programming in the native language of the hardware. Moreover, the capacity to act on the digital model to change the states of the actuators and elements with kinematics, simulating their real response.
Virtual Commissioning example:
For a better understanding of the operation let’s take a simplified line to see how the Virtual Commissioning process would be:
1. The Digital Twin of the proposal is generated, for this the tooling is going to be modelled in 3D and the actuators are going to be given the kinematics.
2. Once we have all the kinematics and physical elements added to the cell (or digital twin) we can start programming the robot ensuring the viability of the process and, on the other hand, we program the PLC and the user screens in parallel with the information of the electrical diagram and the process diagram.
3. The next step is to add the digital signals to the simulation environment. Now we have to connect these digital inputs and outputs with the actuators through logic blocks that allow us to simulate the different states of the actuators.
4. Once we have all the elements modelled and programmed, the validation phase of the code, safeties, HMi and processes begins. At this point the customer is involved to verify that the functionalities are as expected. In addition, it is the time to identify if there are any gaps in the design proposal. If so, together with the client, an iterative process is carried out where proposals are made to correct the errors or shortcomings, generating a new product that exceeds the desired expectations.
5. To ensure that no point is left unchecked in the process, a generic checklist is usually followed, which depending on the elements contained in the cell, is self-generated to check all possible scenarios. This, in addition to the cycle time check, covers everything necessary to ensure maximum guarantees of success.
Why Virtual Commissioning?
There are several reasons why more and more customers are choosing to add Virtual Commissioning as a necessary phase in the execution of their projects, and although the main (and sufficient) reason is the reduction of the start-up time of the production line, here is a list of reasons why virtual commissioning is here to stay.
1. Reduction of start-up times
In today’s highly competitive market, speed of product launch is increasingly valued. Virtual Commissioning was born precisely with the objective of reducing the start-up time of an installation, and thus reducing the time to market of the final product.
It is estimated that Virtual Commissioning can reduce the total time of a project by up to 25% from the first phase of product development to its acceptance by the end customer. This reduces the total cost of the project, since the start of production is brought forward and the risk of stoppages due to failures during the production of the first batches is eliminated.
These advantages are achieved by being able to bring forward phases that were previously necessarily executed during commissioning at the customer’s facilities, and that can now be executed in parallel with the design phases. In the following points we will talk about these phases that Virtual Commissioning allows to advance.
2. Debugging of the mechanical, pneumatic, and electrical developments.
The digital twin makes it possible to verify that the mechanical design of the tooling fits the product and that it is suitable for the technological process for which it has been designed. For example, validating that a welding table has the conditions to ensure the repeatability of the referencing of the product, that the robot carrying the welding gun can reach all the points and the path to them and that the working conditions are those necessary to ensure the quality of the process (such as the perpendicularity of the weld, compensation of wear, etc.).
On the other hand, Virtual Commissioning ensures that the pneumatic and electrical schematics have been correctly set up to comply with the process. For example, by ensuring that, by acting on an electrical signal, a specific pneumatic group is activated which displaces certain flanges to allow the entry of the welding gun to reach a specific point of the process.
3. Debugging of programming errors
The simulation of all the elements makes it possible to see how the PLC and robots would respond in the real installation to ensure that the final result is as expected and giving the opportunity to debug and test your code.
This is the fundamental factor by which it is possible to reduce the installation times, since it is assured that all the code is already tested and validated, and therefore the real start-up is reduced simply to the configuration of the equipment.
4. Verification of operation modes, process and final product
It may happen that once the production lines have been installed, without having done a virtual commissioning, some deficiency in the design may arise that makes the correct execution of the process impossible, and this results in one of three circumstances: the final product quality cannot be assured, it is not possible to meet the cycle times for which the machine has been designed, or some functionality that had not been taken into account in the design phase is essential.
This would be one of the worst scenarios that we can find in the execution of a project, since its correction implies a redesign of the tooling or the need to add new facilities and modify those already built.
This situation usually entails a very high increase in start-up time, since it is necessary to wait for the design to be redone, for the new proposal to be manufactured and finally for it to be transported and validated in the plant. Therefore, a small error that has not been found in the design phases can lead to a high increase in the total cost of the project plus a very possible delay in the production of the first batches.
5. Operator and machine safety verification
While the functionality of the machine is the main reason for Virtual Commissioning, another fundamental aspect that can be checked is the safety of the installation.
Virtual Commissioning makes it possible to verify that the moving parts that make up the installation do not interfere with each other, but it also ensures that there are no movements or design errors that could harm an operator.
To carry out these checks, countless scenarios are tested in the same way as they would be done on site at the installation. These tests provide a higher level of reliability and drastically reduce safety testing time.
6. Pioneering the digitization of the automotive industry
In the current context, the paradigm of the manufacturing industry is beginning to shift towards a much more digital environment, where technologies such as Industry 4.0 come into play. From the massive acquisition of information, conclusions can be drawn to improve process times, or critical points of the lines where it would be advisable to make improvements such as adding a buffer or buffer of parts for example.
The fact of having a digital twin ready for virtual start-up makes it possible to study the proposals and validate them in a much more efficient and secure way. And not only that, but it is also possible to replicate scenarios that produce failures on the line to find solutions without affecting production, and thus load the code with the improvement when the production line is stopped.
The products being manufactured today are more customized, which is why the digital twin and Virtual Commissioning for many manufacturers is not only recommended but is a requirement as it allows higher levels of efficiency and performance, as well as new points of view and new levels of automation at all points of the chain.
If you are interested in carrying out a Virtual Commissioning project contact us and our team of experts will advise you throughout the project.