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.
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
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.