How to get started with Virtual Commissioning
In the development of mechatronics systems in industry, software and controls teams normally are the last step in the development cycle. The hardware is ready and shipped to location and then the software is connected and often last-minute changed to ‘get the motor running’. However connecting the software untested and late in the development cycle is time consuming, stressfull (the factory is waiting), and expensive. Virtual Commissioning gives you the opportunity to develop and virtually test your (PLC-) software in an early stage. A Digital Twin is the ideal tool for simulation and communication. It helps to divide the software development work easier, and do more parallel testing over multiple teams. This enables you to get earlier insights and detects issues and errors before they appear in the field. This results in doing virtual FAT and SAT tests. Saving on travel expenses, people, and getting systems more quickly up and running.
How do we start with Virtual Commissioning?
The virtual model comprises out of 6 main content parts. So this is the flow on how to get started with Virtual Commissioning:
- Geometry; the 3D setup of the system.
- The kinematics of the system; The motion of joints, bodies and groups of bodies.
- Emulated sensors and actuators; the things that measure and sense and can act on the kinematic model.
- Material flow, this can work together with the kinematic setup, but can also be the driver to have a flow of material going through the system, that is being sensed and acted on by the actuators.
- Physics; here you decide which forces will act on certain parts of your system.
- Logic connection; the connection of the controls software to the virtual model, going into the emulated sensors and actuators. This gateway does bidirectional communication on I/O level for the controls software with the virtual model.
How to get your geometry simulation ready
If there are no 3D CAD models available, you could create simple shapes to get a concept of your machine and system. Those CAD models have to be made simulation ready. This includes setting up the hierarchy, trimming the file, scrobbling for stuff like screws and hiding them (to make your model more light weight for simulation purposes and improve performance). As Digital Twin builders, we have experienced how useful this is and how this helps in the workflow.
Set up Kinematics
You have to “rig” your geometry. So that the limits, and degrees of freedom of the system can be enacted on by, for example, a motor. This helps you rig every foreseeable mechatronics concept.
Emulated sensors and actuators
Within the rigged model you can add emulated sensors and actuators. These act as a reference and can be tuned for your needs. So you can set your own motor speed, etc, to mimic your setup as precisely as possible.
For the simulation you need to set up a material flow and triggers. This can be combined with the kinematics. In this stage you need to make choices in fidelity of your system and build the right simulation set up for control testing. At this point there are blanks in the 3D model and kinematics in which the departments have to align and determine how to simulate the flow. This can be done in industrial high precision to secure that the model performs the same way every time you test. There is also an option to apply different scenarios. The deterministic nature of the simulation helps to detect “double blinds” and shows if there are errors in the systems simulation or control software.
Physics and dynamics
You have to add physics and dynamics into your simulation. It depends on certain elements in your system which physics you can use. There are, for example, the standard physics of Unity and Nvidia, but also more precise tools like Algoryx.
At last you can connect your virtual model to your logic. Connections can be made, for example, to a UML in something like Matlab, to software on a PC over something like MQTT, but also to Soft or Hard PLC’s over their own protocols. The connection could then directly link to the emulated actuators and sensors. With the software you have full control over the I/O. It creates policy files, so it’s easily readable by others.
Now you have your virtual model connected to control software and ready for testing. Our experience is that users use this model across their teams. They now have the opportunity to create a new model every sprint and work together in an agile approach.
We know that it might still be hard to get started, so feel free to reach out, so we can show you how this process works.
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