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How consistency, transparency and connectivity contribute to virtual commissioning

Traditionally, the most stressful part of the development process has been the commissioning phase – when manufacturing systems are brought together for integration and operation with a PLC and the application. That’s when you find out how well the various teams have been working together. If, for example, a mistake in the application of the control software – maybe just a misunderstanding – cause the machine prototype to crash, the result isn’t always damage but long delays, high costs and a great deal of frustration.

Although it’s only one part of the development process, avoiding problems that surface at the commissioning phase is where the biggest potential for time and cost savings lies – by being able to simulate the operation of physical processes before they are built. Virtual commissioning, as it’s known today, was first envisaged decades ago, but we’ve had to undertake a long journey to make it feasible.

This is where Totally Integrated Automation (TIA) from Siemens comes in – with its highest level of integration.

Absolute end-to-end consistency thanks to Totally Integrated Automation

With Totally Integrated Automation (TIA), every single component and competence is harmonised with one another – and not only on the automation level, as TIA offers all the necessary horizontal and vertical interfaces as well as openness. So, data and information can flow both on the automation level and across all vertical levels. In other words: from OT (Operational Technology) to IT (Information Technology). Future technologies are already being considered today and integrated step by step.

This results in maximum data transparency on all levels, which is the basis for creating a digital twin. That is where the real-world merges with the virtual world and the end-to-end TIA portfolio shows its strengths, with possibilities for simulating control systems and virtual commissioning as well as the generation of machine data that can be used for the continuous optimisation of production.

Virtualisation allows errors to be eliminated early on. If your virtual machine crashes, instead of picking up the pieces of your prototype, you can adjust the parameters and rerun the test immediately. Different teams can work together simultaneously through uniform interfaces and digital workflows, which avoids redundancy and increases efficiency.

This way, once there is a physical prototype, it’s hardly a prototype anymore but much closer to the finished product. The testing phase is shortened, since you already know the machine works, and proven project objects can be re-used again and again.

The benefits of Totally Integrated Automation in practice for Tronrud Engineering

TIA creates real added value in any industry – no matter how automated or digitalized the operation may be. Specific use cases reveal how quickly and confidently you can implement the digital transformation in the automation environment.

One of these use cases is dedicated to virtual commissioning. As mentioned above, the use of simulation tools and the digital twin to eliminate errors at an early stage promises tremendous benefits. With Siemens’ PLCSIM Advanced, it’s possible to simulate and validate controller functionalities without the actual controllers.

The best way to illustrate this is with a real hands-on example. The Norwegian company Tronrud Engineering used Siemens’ Totally Integrated Automation approach to halve the engineering and assembly times of their world’s fastest packaging machine.

During the development phase, Tronrud relied on Siemens’ perfectly harmonized technologies and solutions – Teamcenter, NX Mechatronics Concept Designer (MCD) and the Totally Integrated Automation Portal (TIA Portal), as well as SIMATIC S7-PLCSIM Advanced to generate 3D models of the machine and all of its parts to simulate their behaviour.

Thanks to this digital twin, tasks can be performed simultaneously instead of step by step – a new machine is designed while programming it. Tronrud was able to decrease the design phase by 10 percent and commissioning time by 20 to 25 percent.

This outcome is only given through a maximum consistency, transparency and connectivity so that resources can be used more efficiently and the time to market can be shortened considerably. It enables the step into the next dimension towards a digital enterprise, always thinking ahead and leaving room for future innovations.

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