Virtual commissioning in mechanical engineering

22. Februar 2021, 1:23 Uhr | Andrea Gillhuber
Mathworks CA 2021-01
© Shutterstock

Modern production machines are not only equipped with more computing power and store more measurement data than ever before, they are becoming increasingly complex. This can lead to delays in commissioning and errors during operation. Virtual commissioning provides a remedy.

In mechanical engineering the digital transformation has ensured, among other things, that the software on production plants plays an ever greater role - and is becoming increasingly complex. Together with the diversity of variants resulting from increasing demands on flexibility and the resulting higher modularity of machines and plants, this is increasingly leading to delays in commissioning and errors in operation.

Virtual commissioning provides a remedy. Instead of time-consuming tests on the physical plant, the software is tested and optimized in interaction with the remaining mechatronic components using simulated - virtual - machines in different scenarios - often at a time when the physical plant is not yet available.

Realizing the full potential of the models

While virtual commissioning and the associated use of simulation models is already becoming more widespread in mechanical and plant engineering, it is often forgotten that simulation models can fulfill a much broader benefit than 'just' for virtual commissioning. The development approach of model-based development, i.e. Model-Based Design, places the model at the center of the entire development process. In this process, models are already created in the planning phase for the machine or plant and are continuously developed through the design to commissioning.

Schematische Darstellung der Parallelisierung der Entwicklung durch die virtuelle Inbetriebnahme
Schematic representation of the parallelization of development through virtual commissioning
© Mathworks

The parallelization made possible by this can shorten the lead time from the start of the project to the start of production (see picture). As a basis for digital twins, the simulation models play a role over the entire lifetime of the plant.
In general, it is important to ask the question of return on investment (ROI) right at the beginning. The point here is to provide a transparent breakdown of the expected savings, such as machine downtime costs during operation, travel expenses for service calls, material and energy input during physical commissioning, etcetera, versus the effort involved - such as personnel costs for creating and maintaining the models, building up know-how in the team, licensing costs, and so on.

With higher accuracy of the simulation models, the effort for modeling usually increases significantly as well, so care should be taken to start with a simple model and increase the complexity as the project progresses - if necessary. Also, model-based development should not be applied to the entire machine or plant in the first project, but it should be started with a relevant subcomponent. On one hand, this allows the added value of simulation to be demonstrated relatively quickly, and on the other hand, the development method can be introduced successively without having to completely change established processes in too short a time.

  1. Virtual commissioning in mechanical engineering
  2. The modeling
  3. Code generation and hardware-in-the-loop

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