Prespective UI Redesign

In anticipation of our newest release, Prespective is getting a new look and feel. By introducing this redesign, users will experience a different and more intuitive workflow built for increased user productivity. Download the newest Prespective Beta here.

Digital Twin technology is new and emerging. Although Prespective and Unity have a strong and ever increasing foothold in the manufacturing industry, users don’t always know where and how to start.

That was one of the main reasons why we are implementing a new UI, which will steadily be released in the coming months.

As Prespective continues to mature, we need to ensure that the UI is not only intuitive, but that it fits in your workflow.

Our main target was to improve the usability and performance of the UI framework. To accomplish this, we focused on a set of goals:

  1. Distinguish Prespective Tools and Features from the Unity Editor
  2. Apply a uniform layout and style 
  3. Unify interaction methods (similar contexts utilize a common user interaction)
  4. Improve the experience of steps in the process of creating a digital twin by emphasizing the division of Prespective’s features and tools in categories
  5. Take advantage of Unity’s new (introduced 2019) UI framework UIElements.

Implemented in redesign (+ related goals)

  •   Prespective Menu (Goals 1, 2, 4)

·   Color Theme Based on Category (Goals 1, 2, 4)

·   Prespective Tools that work based on active selection give clear UI feedback. This prevents ambiguity on the necessary input or user action a tool requires. (Goal 3)

·   Overall improved layout for windows and editors – example: old vs new Prelogic Simulator (Goal 2)

Old features will all have redesign UI’s in the next Beta release. Items that will have new UI implemented: new Physics, Discrete Event Simulation. Discrete event simulation will also utilize Node Editors that allow ‘visual coding’.

Discrete Event Simulation with Unity and Prespective

‘Can you make me a machine that produces 250 thousand pouches of dog food per week?’ Where do you even start when a customer gives you such a challenge? You will probably begin with some rough sketches on paper. But to make it more tangible and concrete, you’ll soon want a simulation tool to draw up your ideas quickly and validate them. This is a challenge that we can tackle by using five levels of simulation.

The highest conceptual level is known as discrete event simulation (DES). In a RollerCoaster Tycoon-type of setting, you quickly construct your first design draft in 3D, preferably with ready-to-use building blocks. This will immediately show you whether or not the devised machine fits within the physical limitations of the factory floor.

But a DES tool can also take you much further. Discrete event simulations revolve around the timing of all the actions and operations in your process. For instance, it will take 2 seconds for an empty pouch to reach the filling station. It has to wait 4 seconds to be filled up, then another 3 seconds to make it to the sealing module. The simulation shows if the flow of the process is valid, and it uncovers potential bottlenecks. In this example, the process may be straightforward and can easily be evaluated mentally, but you can imagine that when you design the logistics for a big warehouse or an intricate production line, it quickly becomes far too complex to keep track of all process steps.

Add splines

What a discrete event simulation lacks are translations and (virtual) movements. In the visualization of your process, the empty pouch will just pop up at the filling station, 2 seconds after you press ‘start’. With our Prespective DES tooling, you can easily introduce motions with the addition of splines. By restricting movements to a spline, the possible paths are fixed, thereby optimizing the calculations it takes to generate a high-resolution simulation.

Note that, although we use double precision instead of float variables, a DES-with-splines solution does not simulate all the physics in deep detail. It will, however, give you invaluable insights into the performance of your design. The beauty of these two simulation levels is that you have the power to speed up time. Because you are still working on a conceptual level, the math isn’t too complicated yet. So when you show your ideas to the customer, you can first run the visualization in real-time to get a feeling of the process. Then, you can speed up – a thousandfold if necessary – and show a week’s worth of output in mere seconds. You can even simulate the production capacity of a full year with log files and optimize for throughput.

 

Deepen with a physics engine

After you have checked and agreed on your design on a conceptual level, you probably want to move into the details and actually validate if the system will work the way you designed it. Maybe you need to investigate a possible bottleneck or want to elaborate on some key actions of the process. That means it’s time to get the CAD model from the engineering department, or make it yourself, and set up the exact behavior of the system. Now, it’s time to dive into the kinematics. In Prespective, you can include the control software within the simulation. With every addition to your model, you’re improving the accuracy of your virtual prototype until it becomes a full-fledged Digital Twin. This third level of simulation is based on physics engines. The Prespective platform is built on the powerful Unity 3D game engine.

The closely linked, but one step deeper, fourth level of simulation comes with the inclusion of FACT (Field for Accurate Collision Tracking). This module is part of our own physics engine PASS (Prespective Accurate Simulation System). It allows you to designate critical regions in your design, where collisions will be checked in high resolution, with a 100% accuracy.

The fifth and final level of simulation can only be done with specialized tooling such as Matlab, Comsol or Wolfram. These calculations are too specific and too complex for standard real-time physics engines. However, Prespective has an interface to include the results of these advanced simulations into your model, after which they will run in real-time with the rest of the simulation.

Note that with the addition of physics engines, you lose the ability to speed up your simulation. These mathematics do not run faster than real-time. The real gain is that the physics, collisions and kinematics are much more accurate – enabling you to validate your system.

 

Continuous improvement

This toolset is designed with continuous improvement strategies in mind (i.e. Six Sigma). The first two levels of simulation (DES and Spline solutions) enable you to start at the very beginning, testing out the first ideas, working up towards the first results, in terms of throughput and production planning. 

Improving on this brings you into the third level of simulation – with a physics engine included and running on the actual control software. You can actually test and validate if the system works and behaves as it should. The fourth level of simulation brings in an extra superpower. Where standard physics engines run out of their maximum capabilities and are unable to continue producing reliable results (i.e. very small objects interacting with large objects), our FACT system can take over. FACT ensures 100% accurate collision detection on any scale, and does it at real-time. For specific needs, the fifth level of simulation (i.e. Matlab, Comsol, Wolfram results) can further detail the virtual prototype.

In contrast with competitors, we have managed to capture the complete simulation track, from DES to specialized tools, all into one platform: Prespective. You don’t have to translate your DES model for the physics engine you want to use. They automatically understand each other and you can easily start at the highest conceptual level and expand all parts until you have a fully operational Digital Twin.

 

About the author: Guido van Gageldonk is co-founder & CTO of Unit040, a visualisation and simulation software company from the Netherlands. He founded the company in 2006 while still being a student at the Technical University in Eindhoven. He is a renowned tech watcher in the Netherlands and is well known for his ground breaking ideas regarding Digital Twin Technology.

A Look into the Future of Digital Twin Technology

Digital Twins will seriously disrupt the industry this decade. That is my firm conviction. The early adopters and first movers have already benefited from the realtime simulation and virtual test capabilities the technology brings to the table. Now, also the first majority is starting to discover that the embrace of digital twinning opportunities quickly leads to a cascade of applications and design options, causing most of them to promptly insert the technology in their critical flow.

By now, every right-minded engineer must have realized that the strict separation between mechanics, electronics and software has gone way too far. When you are developing a complex system and want to beat your competitor to the market, the barriers between the divisions have to come down. Apart from the social and organizational challenges involved, breaking down the silos is also demanding on a technical level. Although very good and continually improving with every new release, current design tools do not speak the same language, and are rarely understood across the borders of their own kingdom. A Digital Twin platform unlocks all the data so the different disciplines can easily work together. With such a communication tool, the design work can be divided more efficiently in individual blocks that can be solved separately, and that can even be reused in future work.

A good Digital Twin platform speaks many tongues, but there is still much to be gained. In the coming years, the industry must tackle the challenge of standardization. For a long time, vendor lock-in has been a quandary. But the practice of forcing clients to use the entire tool suite of one particular supplier is quickly becoming a remnant of the past. The different departments will surely not work with software from such a closed bastion.

In construction, engineers work based on the Building Information Modeling (BIM) standard which contains set rules about how to store your geometries and how to map your metadata to them. In the industry two standards are evolving to maturity: AutomationML and FMU/FMI (Functional Mockup Unit/Functional Mockup Interface). These neutral data exchange formats allow you to connect data objects from different sources. Big players such as Airbus and Daimler recognized the issues years ago and are the major drivers behind these standards. Now, these standards have become attractive to the next level of companies like ASML, Philips and their supplier networks.

 

Version control and authorization

Another important challenge is version control and authorization. With growing development teams working on the same (divided and distributed) model, it is becoming ever more imperative to keep track of who did what and when. Only then can you do a proper rollback when things go sour. Current PLM solutions simply do not suffice. They are not suited for the new reality of digital twinning. Sure, you can create excellent 2D drawings. The tools often contain a GIT implementation, so you can divide the work and register for every block where changes have been made as well as the respective engineer that made them. But they lack three crucial dimensions: time, 3D and a way to couple with other rich data sets.

A modern Digital Twin platform should definitely be able to cope with the pressing issues around version control and authorization, but the industry has not tackled that challenge yet. At universities and research institutes like Fraunhofer and TNO, scientists are trying to figure it out. I suspect the solution will be ready and available within a couple of years.

 

Machine Learning

Even with advanced technologies like digital twinning, we still rely heavily on human brain power. Humans both create and evaluate the data. The logical next step is Machine Learning. Because you have such a rich data structure, you can even take these smart algorithms beyond just machine control. You can use Machine Learning to optimize your design in an evolutionary manner. And, you can do this over three axes: geometry, software and mechatronics, or what I like to call machine phenotyping; where do I put the motors and what are the ideal spots for my sensors?

Waymo did exactly that. This self-driving car developer was born at one of the famous Friday afternoon sessions at Google. Engineers recognized the potential of virtual worlds to tackle the problem of self-driving vehicles. They started out with the world model of Grand Theft Auto and upgraded that to a full-blown testing environment for self-driving cars. In that Digital Twin, Waymo cars have driven millions of miles. The company uses Machine Learning to optimize the system behavior, but also to look for the best location and the ideal number of lidars, cameras and other sensors. The best thing is that Waymo can try the configurations that the Machine Learning algorithms suggest in its virtual world, let them run a thousand times, pick the best result and start a new iteration. Of course, it will have to validate the final design in real life, but the development process has been sped up enormously.

Since innovation speed is the most paramount factor in the current industry, organizations should really consider adopting Digital Twin technology. Think of Volkswagen. Once it was the biggest car manufacturer in the world, but now it is getting overtaken by faster companies like Waymo and Tesla. VW is still stuck in the old way of thinking and cannot transform fast enough. By the way, a lot of European power houses are lagging. Their American and Asian competitors are sometimes five year ahead. And with exponentially accelerating developments, that could turn out to be disastrous for European competitiveness. The bottom line is that you cannot physically test your system ten thousand times. It is time to take a physical step toward the virtual world.

 

About the author: Guido van Gageldonk is co-founder & CTO of Unit040, a visualisation and simulation software company from the Netherlands. He founded the company in 2006 while still being a student at the Technical University in Eindhoven. He is a renowned tech watcher in the Netherlands and is well known for his ground breaking ideas regarding Digital Twin Technology.

This is why software designers should start digital twinning

Dear software designer, do you ever get an uncanny feeling that you are stuck in the conventional design process? Are the mechanical engineers and mechatronics specialists next door busily developing the newest system, but you have to sit on your hands until the first prototype is ready? And when you finally start coding, are you then confronted by all kinds of accumulated misconceptions that you have to solve with digital duct tape? If so, you might want to try digital twinning.

With a virtual prototyping platform like Prespective, you will never be late to the party. From the kickoff of the whole design process you can start programming and validating, long before the physical prototype is finished. As soon as there is a rough 3D sketch on the table, you can setup the first iteration, which will grow gradually. Every new design phase brings more detail to the design, all you have to do is update the code, until the final software stack is ready. Also, with the inevitable changes in the requirements, you’ll just need to finetune.

A Digital Twin gives you the luxury to spread out your work over the full project period. You no longer have to sweat and toil in the final phase because you are involved in the entire process. This means you can give your input along the way and hopefully avoid unintentional design issues, at least as much as possible, from your mechanical colleagues.

 

Bring your design to life

But wait, there’s more. A Digital Twin gives you invaluable insights into the system under construction. It can provide you with a much better understanding of what the requirements actually mean in practice. Additionally, a Digital Twin can give you new perspective to understand the intentions of the CAD designer’s 3D drawing faster and easier. A tool like Prespective will greatly simplify the communication between all disciplines. You can question the mechanical engineer in more detail – and vice versa – because a virtual prototype brings the design to life. It will show you in realtime and in 3D how the system is constructed and how the different components are moving relative to each other. This is one of the most powerful assets to digital twinning.

To ease your job even further, you can even make detailed Digital Twins for the different components or modules in your system. This allows you to cut up the coding work into bite-size chunks and divide them between your software engineering colleagues. After this decomposition, everyone can program their own building blocks and validate them virtually in Prespective. Importantly, this means that implementing digital twinning won’t interfere with your current (agile) way of working. Every software engineer can choose his own coding platform, whether it be old-school line coding, well-known PLC development environments, for instance from Beckhoff or Siemens, or even model-based engineering tools. They are all valid sources to drive your virtual prototype.

 

Quick delivery

If this is not enough reason to consider a Digital Twin platform, let me give you two more convincing arguments. First, validation and testing will seriously improve. When you have only one physical prototype you have to share the scarce testing time with your colleagues. But with a virtual prototype everyone has his own test platform. You can test more thoroughly and investigate all kinds of exceptional situations that would otherwise have been too difficult to recreate or too dangerous to try. With continuous improvement as a goal, you can even test your additional software when the system is already on its way to the customer.

That brings me to the second point. Normally, when a system is installed in the field, valuable time is lost in implementing and calibrating the machine. Because the exact configuration of the shipped system is now documented, you can calibrate it to a great extent. Of course, there is still some work to be done on site, but you can cover approximately 80 percent of this setup virtually and digitally, which accounts for major time savings. In fact, it goes even further, as you have the option to setup and test the human machine interface in Prespective and deploy it straight to the machine in the field.

Life before CAD software

Takeaways

When you use a Digital Twin platform like Prespective, software engineers can get more involved in the complete development process. They can start earlier, try more iterations and concepts, and have a better dialogue with colleagues from other departments. Also, they will improve the end result, since they have more development time, can run more tests and are able to shorten the uptime.

About the author: Guido van Gageldonk is co-founder & CTO of Unit040, a visualisation and simulation software company from the Netherlands. He founded the company in 2006 while still being a student at the Technical University in Eindhoven. He is a renowned tech watcher in the Netherlands and is well known for his ground breaking ideas regarding Digital Twin Technology.