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The Magazine

Digitalization in machine building

Twins with potential

The digital twin is the epitome of the digitalization of plants and machinery – the virtual copy of a real machine or system. And the twin is indeed increasingly proving that it can help ensure optimized machine design, efficient commissioning, short changeover times, and smooth operation.

According to the German Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media (BITKOM), every digital twin in the manufacturing industry will have an economic potential of more than € 78 bn by 2025. However, this potential can only be achieved if future systems are not only networked, but are also capable of seeing, understanding, and self-optimizing in order to adapt to future changes. This also requires integrated information systems that enable a continuous exchange of information from the planning, production, and order processing, all the way down to the machine level.

When it comes to efficiency, the virtual representation of machines or plants on a digital platform offers companies numerous advantages throughout the entire lifecycle – from product design, production planning, and engineering to commissioning, operation, servicing and the modernization of systems and plants. The twins – the physical plant and the digital copy – are permanently connected and can thus develop a common object memory, ideally from the first prototype on.

The foundations of Industrie 4.0

Developing such digital twins calls for powerful software systems that can implement the digital twin along the entire value chain – for planning and designing products, production, entire plants and data-based services. This allows users to operate their machines more flexibly and efficiently and to customize their manufacturing.

It is also possible to validate designs earlier and test the configuration of the machine control system in the virtual environment. By carrying out routines and checks earlier on in the engineering process, the risk of failures and errors in critical phases of the lifecycle, for example during commissioning, is reduced. Eliminating such risks would otherwise only be possible with great effort and under time pressure. If the machine information is available on an integrated data platform, subsequent modifications can be tested and verified in exactly the same way, thus accelerating the introduction of a new product. Furthermore, with the help of models, the operating data of the machine can also be used to optimize characteristic parameters for production – from energy consumption to error rates, maintenance and cleaning cycles. These digitalization options provide considerable flexibility in the design and operation of the machine or entire plants.

The cloud-based, open IoT operating system MindSphere makes it possible to connect machinery and the physical infrastructure to the digital world. On this operating system, MindApps analyze the vast amounts of data to enable KPI data such as produced items, downtime analyses, failure rates, and energy data to be evaluated. These evaluations are then fed back to the digital twin, enabling the data model of product and production to be continuously improved. MindSphere offers state-of-the-art security functions for data acquisition in the field as well as for the transfer and storage of this data in the cloud.

Industrial Security concepts are important for comprehensive security in automation.

A well-rounded portfolio

The Siemens portfolio offers perfectly coordinated solutions for a holistic approach: software used as a central data platform to digitally support the entire value chain for discrete manufacturing and intelligent networks for industrial communication. These networks provide a basis for simple data exchange within the different production modules and for collecting operational data. One security solution is the so-called defense-in-depth concept that Siemens has been systematically implementing for several years. The concept ensures that the new requirements in industrial security, resulting from the growing number of networked systems, are met and industrial plants are effectively protected against both internal and external attacks. Standards-compliant, structured security mechanisms – ranging from password protection to continuous security monitoring – allow for a reliable and customized adaptation to the current security requirements of the digital factory. MindSphere simultaneously serves as a platform for the development of new digital business models for industrial companies while also rounding off the Siemens portfolio of data-driven, digital services for the industrial environment.

Initial achievements

With the Siemens Digital Enterprise Suite our customers can already invest in future-proof solutions for the step-by-step implementation of Industrie 4.0. For example, the special-purpose machine manufacturer Bausch + Ströbel uses software and digitalization as a key to consistency in its engineering. It is expecting an increase in efficiency of at least 30% by 2020 thanks to the time saved during engineering alone.

Schunk, the world market leader in clamping technology and gripping systems, is also already using digitalization solutions for its electrically controlled gripping system components. This new engineering process will, it is hoped, lead to significantly shorter project timelines, faster commissioning, and a considerable increase in efficiency when building similar plants.

On every level

The networking of machines with each other and with higher-level systems enables resources and production data to be managed centrally – even PLM and MES systems can be connected to further increase productivity. This ensures cost benefits in procurement and operation, meaning that order data is available throughout the entire company, and it is possible to identify optimum production strategies for allocating orders to the various production sites within the organization. In addition to this, material stocks, logistics processes, and tool availability can be seen at a glance and efficiently coordinated.

The digital twin’s potential to increase quality and efficiency thanks to the improved documentation of processes and machines is just as exciting. In the future, every manufacturer will know exactly which component has been installed with which features in which of its products – allowing them to provide a targeted response to problems and to optimize processes. In its Simatic production facility in Amberg, Germany, Siemens is already using a comprehensive documentation and evaluation system and has achieved an extremely low level of errors in production.

And the digital twin is ensuring greater efficiency and productivity in other sectors as well: with the step from integrated engineering to integrated operation, Siemens enables the process industry to build a comprehensive data model from plant engineering to operation. Here, too, digitalization ensures a shorter time to market, greater flexibility, and increased efficiency. This gives companies the opportunity to respond effectively to the volatility and diversity of global markets and to increase productivity as well as energy and resource efficiency.

Picture credits: Siemens AG