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Robotics Tech Papers

Digital Twins and Virtual Commissioning in Industry 4.0

Visual Components

With the dawn of the fourth industrial revolution upon us, we’re seeing a resurgence of interest in technologies that have been around for some years but are getting another look by many manufacturers in the age of Industry 4.0. In this article, we’ll highlight some of the terms and technologies we often get asked about, their applications, and why we think they’re important.

Industry 4.0

The term Industry 4.0 (or Industrie 4.0) as we now know it was first described in a presentation at the 2011 Hannover Fair by Professor Wolfgang Wahlster, Director and CEO of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence. Today, it’s a widely used term that means different things to different people, but the basic idea is the same: Industry 4.0 refers to the intelligent networking of machines and processes for industry with the help of information and communication technology.

Because the vision and promise of Industry 4.0 is so bold, and its impact so significant, manufacturers can’t afford ignore it. The opportunity of Industry 4.0 is massive for suppliers and manufacturers alike, with most research firms expecting the market for Industry 4.0 technologies to at least double over the next 5 years. The impact these technologies will have on the global economy is sizable, Mckinsey estimates Industry 4.0 technologies in factories can generate an economic impact of $1.2-3.7 trillion per year by 2025.

Industry 4.0 refers to the intelligent networking of machines and processes for industry with the help of information and communication technology.

 

Digital Twin

The digital twin concept started to gain recognition in the early 2000’s, most notably through the work of Michael Grieves at the University of Michigan. Grieves proposed that a digital twin model has three main parts: a) physical products in Real Space, b) virtual products in Virtual Space, and c) the connections of data and information that ties the virtual and real products together. Over the years, the definition (and promise) of digital twin has evolved, but the basic idea remains the same: a dynamic, virtual software-generated representation of corresponding physical assets and processes.

There are many applications and use cases of digital twin, and as this is a very active area of research and innovation, the list is constantly growing. Some general uses of digital twin include:

  • Validating system models with real world data
  • Providing decision support and alerts to users
  • Predicting changes in physical systems over time
  • Discovering new application opportunities and revenue streams

The potential benefits of digital twin applications are compelling: improved efficiency, better product quality, shorter unplanned downtime, and reduced start-up times, to name a few. Digital twins can be applied from initial factory planning and design to commissioning and maintenance, giving them value throughout the production lifecycle.

When it comes to investment in digital twin technology, manufacturers today are much more bullish on its prospects. While the term digital twin has been trending for some years, more manufacturers are now investing in this area. In a recent survey of 300 manufacturing executives, LNS Research found that 75% of respondents had either implemented or planned digital twin initiatives in their organizations.

Over the years, the definition (and promise) of digital twin has evolved, but the basic idea remains the same: a dynamic, virtual software-generated representation of corresponding physical assets and processes.

 

Virtual Commissioning

The design and implementation of a new production solution is often a time-consuming and costly process. Once the design is finalized and the equipment is installed, there’s one more phase to complete before production handover — commissioning. This is where controls are integrated, bugs are found and fixed, procedures are written and operators are trained on new equipment, new processes or revised procedures. This phase is challenging to plan and overruns frequently, which delays production and can result in late shipments — and even lost business.

Digital twins can be used for a wide range of purposes, including design adjustments and diagnostics. Additionally, because they’re accurate representations of physical assets, they can also be utilized to streamline and optimize the commissioning phase. Instead of commissioning a new system or robot cell in the physical world, virtual commissioning involves creating a digital twin and then testing and verifying the model in a simulated virtual environment. This enables:

  • Code testing and debugging in a virtual environment
  • The simulation of equipment operation, identification of possible problems and the quick evaluation of alternative solutions
  • The simulation of robot cell operation
  • The development of operating procedures
  • The training of supervisors and equipment operators
  • The simulation of the impact of new machinery on the existing operation to identify choke points and space constraints so they can be addressed before installation

In short, virtual commissioning allows engineers and operators to test new installations, as well as any adjustments — in both the startup and the maintenance phases — before implementing them in the physical world. The result is a smoother, more streamlined installation and integration, fewer cost overruns and minimal chances of downtime that could impact production.

Instead of commissioning a new system or robot cell in the physical world, virtual commissioning involves creating a digital twin and then testing and verifying the model in a simulated virtual environment.

 

Plan your next Industry 4.0 project with Visual Components

With the increasing amount of innovation and investment happening in manufacturing today, it’s an exciting time for the engineers and planners responsible for planning and upgrading production capabilities. Whether you’re planning your first Industry 4.0 project or designing a new smart factory, 3D manufacturing simulation software is an essential tool for manufacturing professionals looking to modernize their factories. The Visual Components platform enables manufacturers to design, verify, optimize, and commission production solutions in a risk-free, virtual environment.

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