Digital engineering offers significant potential for efficiency in mechanical engineering. Here, Marc Vissers of Lenze offers a view on the current state of play
More flexible, more powerful machines and plants not only require more elaborate control programs, but the development process itself is also becoming increasingly complex. Digital engineering already provides some relief today, but perhaps the greater positive effects are yet to come in the future. Certainly here at Lenze we offer integrated tools and services across the entire lifecycle to simplify processes, reduce costs and minimise the use of time and resources in engineering.
Modularisation has proven its worth in the development of machines, because tried and tested functional units can be reused and do not have to be redesigned again and again. Machine manufacturers and users benefit over the entire life cycle: from system design, programming, and commissioning to warehousing and spare parts logistics. We think that the most important prerequisite for being able to fall back on information from previous projects is that the information is readily available in a standardised form. This is exactly where the digital twin, also known as the administration shell, comes into play. It digitally maps physical components and machines and acts as a collection point for all relevant information.
Modern design tools
With our own apps and tools we are already making this concept a reality and are also making a significant contribution to consistent data use. One of the central tools for digital engineering is our EASY System Designer, which covers the first engineering steps such as idea, design, and concrete development. With this web-based tool, everyone involved in the planning process from the various disciplines can carry out the complete planning of automation solutions, from the controller to the drive technology, including the necessary application software.
Based on integrated intelligence, the tool checks the developed system solution for its feasibility and then documents everything necessary for the people involved in the engineering process. This saves valuable planning time, shortens the decision-making process, and reduces the risks in the project.
It is then possible to prepare a PLC program based on the planned and agreed system solution. The machine structure, selected hardware components and software modules as well as the application parameters and other relevant project data are available to the programmer in this engineering environment. This enables them to finalise the PLC program more efficiently and to get the machine up and running much faster.
The information that is generated and collected in the digital twin is available in the subsequent lifecycle phases and suitable interfaces ensure that third-party tools for simulation and virtual commissioning can also access it. With these options, errors in the development process can be detected and corrected more quickly, and the time required for delivery and commissioning is therefore significantly reduced.
A basis for cloud services
The digital twin has arrived in reality and offers real support in industrial automation. With its single point of information approach, standardised data model and data access, it is also the basis for the use of cloud services, which contribute to the optimisation of production processes, through to the intelligent evaluation of operating data from the drives, which makes additional sensors unnecessary. And finally, it increases the flexibility of plants in which entire production modules can be easily exchanged via Plug & Produce.