No fault forward: Mitigating risk through the use of the digital twin and virtual commissioning
Advanced automation has the potential to improve the competitiveness of manufacturing and assembly facilities. New technologies can provide an array of benefits and lower production costs using more efficient machines and deliver a more efficient workforce, improved product quality conformity, increased up-time, and enhanced flexibility of the production system to meet customer needs.
To support these, manufacturers are steering more and more towards the use of digital environments to modernize their traditional systems. They are utilising virtual commissioning to deliver projects, from design through to install or to test control software with a virtual machine model before connecting into the real system. Using the virtual world through commissioning is an essential part to mitigate risks, reduce cost, and time to market.
Virtual commissioning is not a new concept, however the use of a digital twin has sufficiently improved the accuracy, combined with ongoing multi-disciplined expertise, has allowed leading edge companies to demonstrate its benefits, extending value through simulation in manufacturing lines, production cells, machines, and even systems.
Virtual commissioning allows machine builders and system integrators to amend automation control logic and Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) code easily in a virtual environment before downloading it to physical hardware on the factory floor. Simulating and validating the automation equipment virtually confirms it will work as expected, thus substantially reducing system installation cost and start-up time.
The wide spread and availability of a digital twin allows for a virtual representation of a physical product, process, or system to be used to understand and predict the physical complement’s performance and characteristics. A digital twin allows:
- Mitigation of risk as all testing can be completed virtually, meaning transitions result in minimal disruption, with no PLC program issues. Manufacturers have increased confidence in that a project will be delivered on time and within budget knowing that any issues are resolved virtually, not only this, but project lead times have also become shorter, as potential risks have been resolved earlier in the process.
- Growing challenges, as many manufacturers battle with varying customer demands, frequently responding to changing market influences, buying cycles, all whilst implementing modifications, and improving efficiency. Being able to make changes in the digital world before implementation allows manufacturers to make alterations, adapt at speed and with flexibility, capturing insights with any errors discovered quickly and in-time to resolve optimizing future installations and processes.
Not only this but having a wider collaborative approach between teams, as engineers work side by side in the digital world, working through projects together thoroughly from the initial design stage to execution and physical implementation. Operators also have the opportunity to train individuals on how new models, machinery, and operations work and behave before physically interacting with the machinery allowing them to become familiar with new ways of working.
Many are turning towards the digital factory for acceptance testing, making virtual commissioning along with a digital twin essential to performing tasks. Many manufacturers will have already adopted to this way of working, having significantly reduced their time to market, and the time to commission systems. Historically, if any errors or surprises arose during a project, these were normally met by ploughing additional resources to address these errors quickly and at a great expense to a project. Now through virtual commissioning these can be addressed with little effort saving time and additional unexpected costs on a project.
Virtual commissioning and the digital twin really carry a no fault forward approach, allowing many manufacturers to embrace advancements in technology to improve efficiency, keeping up with customer demands, collaborative engineering whilst mitigating risks of a project, saving costs and time to market. Leidos are committed to identifying new approaches to manufacturing which provides smarter, safer, and more cost-effective manufacturing solutions.