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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.

The Power of the Game Engine

The old-fashioned product development flow, still used by many companies today, is approaching the end of its lifecycle. It is no longer acceptable to first design the product in CAD, then build the physical prototype and finally call in the software engineers to make the system run. To avoid expensive redesigns and shorten the critical time to market, virtual prototyping is the way to go. This can be done with our Prespective platform, based on the Unity3D game engine.

I know what you’re thinking: gaming technology? That cannot seriously help me with my high-end industrial design. But the truth is that you cannot do without the realtime simulation capabilities a game engine has to offer. Of course, there are a lot of tools out there that claim to have that power. But since they are not targeted at realtime simulation, they generally fall short when you try to use them for virtual prototyping.

CAD software, for example, is ideal for drawing your design, but calculation times go through the roof when you want to simulate in realtime. With visualization software you can render beautiful imagery of your design, but again, building up each picture pixel by pixel takes tremendous computing power, and you need at least 25 pictures per second for a smooth result. Then there is Computer Aided Engineering, a tool that is meant to do extensive mathematical and physical simulations but only for the core process or a small part of the entire system. For complete products, CAE is far too slow to be a viable option.

A game engine like Unity3D is specifically designed to build virtual worlds, including real physics and true interactions between objects. That is what modern game developers need. They don’t want to program all the physics every time they design a new game. An engine gives them the right platform to construct all the imaginary worlds they can think of, but with real-life graphics and natural behavior.

 

High-speed calculations

Game engines have been around for quite a while. For a long time, every major game builder had his own development environment. Around the turn of the century, some companies, like Epic and Crytek, saw a new business model and put their engine on the market for third parties. The licenses carried a hefty price tag: a million dollar was no exception. Only the biggest game designers could afford to buy the game engine from such a specialized company.

In 2005, Unity Technologies turned this world upside down. It released its own free cross-platform game engine, aiming to democratize game development by making it accessible to more developers. In the years that followed, Unity3D grew to become one of the biggest game engines in the world. Nowadays, more than half of all mobile games are built on this platform. And pushed by a large user community, the market share is increasing every year.

As said, the capabilities of game engines like Unity3D are not only useful in game development. Industry also benefits greatly from this technology as an operating system for virtual worlds. This started out in visualization. For instance, with the game engine, it is very easy to change the color, or other options, of your car and immediately see how it would look. You can even extend the visualization to virtual reality and interact with your design. And you can do this in realtime, which is unique since no other software solution has the potential to generate 60 images per second. Game engines have that capability because they run on the computer’s GPU instead of the CPU. And since GPU’s can parallelize the calculations, they reach a much higher speed.

 

Digital twinning

Supported by our partner Unity, as they see this as a huge opportunity, we took their game engine from the gaming world and transferred it to the industry. It quickly took off, with Océ/Canon as one of our launching customers. At first, it was all about interactive visualization, but the simulation got so real, that Océ asked us if they could virtually turn on their design. That was the start of our Prespective platform.

We now offer Prespective as a simulation and visualization tool for industry. It runs on Unity3D as Excel runs on Windows, and lets you build virtual steel in realtime 3D. That digital prototype – or Digital Twin, as the current lingo goes – allows you to verify and validate your design long before the hardware is built, making the development process faster, cheaper, safer and more reliable.

That doesn’t mean you have to throw all the other tooling overboard. On the contrary, please keep drawing your designs in CAD software. Then import them into Prespective and bring them to life. Also, the output of modeling tools is invaluable input for our virtual prototyping platform. Drawings, pre-calculated simulations, visual characteristics, control software, it can all be imported in Prespective to optimize the quality of your Digital Twin.

 

Continuous improvement

Our competitive edge is that Prespective accepts CAD designs from all sources and that it offers the toolset to very quickly allocate behavior to every component, like the pivot points and the physical limits to the model of a robotic arm. In the old days, this was very labor intensive and highly unscalable, but we have made it much more user friendly, shortening the job from several months to a couple of hours.

The Unity3D game engine is, in fact, so powerful that it is no longer meaningful to use a specialized visualization tool – which is a massive time saver. But virtual prototyping goes beyond visualization. On the level of physics, we are improving continuously. For games this is of minor importance, but industrial clients set the bar high. Again, with strong support from Unity, the core of our engineering effort is to enhance the accuracy of realtime simulations, to such a degree that we can help you design even the most high-end systems.

About the author: Jorick Huizinga is CEO and Co-founder of Unit040, a visualisation and simulation software company from the Netherlands. As one of the early adopters of the usage of Gaming Technology for the industry, Unit040’s Digital Twin Platform Prespective is now worldwide renowed for it’s complete character.

Develop 25 percent faster with a digital twin

In the early days, system architecting was irrelevant. System development was merely a mechanical challenge, with camshafts dictating the motions in the machine. Then electronics took over, followed by software to boost intelligence even further. Suddenly, we could build smarter and more complex systems. On the downside, though, architects experienced a certain pillarization in their development teams: mechanical engineers vs. electrical specialists vs. software designers. Arguably, the biggest obstacle was that the latter of the three was always late to the party. They simply couldn’t start writing code before the base of the machine had actually been built. Although a lot has improved in recent years, it’s clear that there is still much to be gained.

The life of system architects can be hard. The advanced machines they want to build are getting more complex by the day. So complex, in fact, that it is almost impossible to keep an overview. Too many intertwining details make them lose their grip on the requirements. To make matters worse, they have fewer resources at hand, both in terms of people and money, and their bosses keep pressing them hard to raise the quality of the end product.

Another challenge is the architect’s wish for an agile design flow, with the short iteration cycles they see at the software department. Wouldn’t it be great to watch the whole system improve every few weeks and show the progress to the customer? For that, they want virtual steel to build up their system, with virtual actuators and sensors, as well as a virtual platform to test the software. The architects – and the rest of the industry – have an ever-growing need for this, but the traditional tooling is lagging.

 

Break down the pillars

The logical next step in system development – that also answers to the above-mentioned challenges – is prototyping by using Digital Twins. You have probably already heard the over-hyped stories, promising you the moon when you use the technology. But let me tone it down a little because digital twinning is no revolution; it’s just an evolution from what used to be called virtual prototyping. For years companies have already been using FEM analysis or computational fluid dynamics to simulate their designs, but always on the component level. This is very helpful, but the real challenge is in combining all components and simulating the whole machine. That means linking the tools each development pillar is using, which can be a real Babylonian confusion of tongues.

A digital twin breaks down the pillars and unlocks the possibility of mixing various blood types. Prespective, our real-time simulation tool has the ability to tap into all of the data models and sources that the different specialists are creating. It understands CAD models drawn in, for instance, Autodesk, Dassault or Siemens software. It accepts physical models made with tools such as Comsol, Matlab or Wolfram. The best part is that even the real embedded software runs on the digital twin created in Prespective, as it reacts precisely the same as the real system would.

With Prespective, designers with different backgrounds can create a common model so they can easily communicate with each other. By eliminating the need for a complete restructuring of the development process, they have a virtual product they can work on in parallel, allowing them to create prototypes both fast and cheap. Just as easily, they can use it in their own department to virtually verify the assumptions they made in their model. And if they want, they can already start the basic iteration after the first design brainstorm.

 

Gaming technology

Digital twin tools come in two flavors. Major companies offer solutions, but these have the potential disadvantage of vendor lock-in. Although the brands claim to be open, these tools don’t operate very well with third-party software. This is particularly impractical, as the different development pillars generally don’t work with matching tools.

Next to the digital twin software from juggernauts, several speedboats are taking the industry by storm. Smaller contestants that are dedicated, adapt more quickly and are completely open. And, small certainly doesn’t mean weak. When we started our journey about seven years ago, we faced the dilemma of developing an engine ourselves or using a strong existing base. It was a no-brainer that a dedicated development team of at least a hundred engineers was out of our league. That’s why we opted to build our Prespective platform on Unity3D – the biggest gaming engine in the world. Every day more than two thousand engineers are improving, updating and finetuning this engine. Not even Siemens can say that it has so many dedicated developers. One of the biggest benefits of using a gaming engine is that this engine offers real-time 3D physics, which makes it far more powerful than regular CAD software.

Our digital twin platform is truly open. Not only does it accept input from a wide range of sources, but engineers also have access to the engine. By making modifications in Unity3D, designers can get a lot of help overcoming the hurdles they encounter when trying to solve very complex physical problems.

 

Fewer costs

Let me emphasize again: digital twinning doesn’t have to disturb your current process. You don’t have to do it completely differently. The whole idea is to help system architects regain the control and overview they need.

Digital twinning is a new way of prototyping. It’s a new layer on top of your existing models, extending your possibilities. I estimate from real life experiences that you can develop 25 percent faster with real-time simulation software like Prespective, all with less cost, fewer mistakes, smaller teams, fewer physical prototypes and fewer issues after commissioning. By providing insight into the requirements, you will drastically improve the communication with your (first tier) suppliers and, above all, with your customers. A digital twin allows you to build complex systems that otherwise simply would be out of reach.

 

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. 

Key-note

Digital twins: the power of a virtual visual copy

(Re) Watch the key-note of Prespective’s CTO Guido van Gageldonk at the Unite Fair in Copenhagen 2019.

From buildings and infrastructure to industrial machinery and factories, digital twins are becoming integral revisualization tools across the industrial sector. In this session, learn how Unit040, a company specializing in visualization and simulation, creates digital twins that combine real-time 3D technology with BIM, CAD and CAE systems to add value at all stages of the building and product lifecycle, from the early design phase to predictive maintenance using Internet of Things (IoT) data.