Thursday, June 6, 2019

Exploring Virtual Commissioning (AKA Digital Twins)

We're seeing tremendous potential value in Virtual Commissioning.

In the past, I was able to improve my control software with a focus on the handling of part passing through the line from coil to finished product. I was able to do this by writing up my own 2D simulator from scratch which we showcased at the Manufacturing Day we hosted at Mestek Machinery in 2012.

Showing this to our state senator (Charles Grassley)

Video we played to show the visitors 
on tour about some of the things 
we were using technology for

This project was a big success and greatly reduced problems we were seeing in the field for those who we upgraded with the changes.

I wanted to take that to the next level to enable better tuning and refinement of my control software at the machine level (instead of just at the line level).

I began generating a virtual 3D ductline within the Unity 3D game engine which is used in many game development environments. I replicated my 2D line simulation within Unity (using cubes as stand-ins for detailed models) and drove it by writing a networked interface between the game and the inputs/outputs from my actual machine control program running on actual hardware (in my office). This allowed us to interact in a very natural way with the parts on the line while seeing how the real-world program responded.

This showed a lot of promise but at that time we had little of the product line modeled in solids.

Times have changed since then and I was ready to re-visit these efforts when I found out about a fully integrated solution being provided by our hardware vendor. This takes things to a whole new level and promises huge payback once implemented. This enables the virtual commissioning of machinery and automation control software through something being called a "Digital Twin". Exciting times!

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