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Virtual commissioning

Lofty prospects – thanks to a digital twin

Responding quickly and flexibly to requirements in the packaging industry is no problem for Tronrud Engineering. Working together with Siemens, the Norwegian machine manufacturer was able to cut the time needed for the programming, design and assembly of a new, extremely flexible, high-speed packaging machine by half. 

High in the clouds with a heavenly view of the picturesque Norwegian landscape, it’s easy to let your mind wander. For Olav Tronrud, a flight in his helicopter is more than just a trip from A to B. The CEO of the Norwegian machine builder Tronrud Engineering also sees it as an excellent opportunity for gaining a new perspective. “When I fly, my mindset changes. That’s how I get new ideas,” explains Tronrud. One of these ideas resulted in the world’s fastest packaging machine.

Same size, twice the speed

The new machine helps customers in the packing industry to overcome formidable challenges: shorter time to market, greater flexibility and efficiency, and higher product quality. As a result, the most pressing need is for fast and flexible machines that permit rapid product changeovers. “Development of the new packaging machine began with a demonstration model that was created using NX, Mechatronics Concept Designer (MCD), and the TIA Portal,” says Kjell Erik Meier, Programming Engineer at Tronrud Engineering. This made it possible to put together interdisciplinary project teams from different business units while also expediting development. “By working on the design, mechanical components, and programming simultaneously, we can drastically reduce the time to market. In another project, this approach allowed us to save about 20 percent, or two months,” says Erik Hjertaas, General Manager Packaging Technology at Tronrud Engineering.

It quickly became apparent that the new machine would have to undergo fundamental changes to make it much faster. The goal was to build a machine that could pack 300 flow-wrap bags into boxes per minute, instead of the current industry standard of 160 bags – and to do so without taking up more space than the previous machine versions. A high degree of flexibility was also called for, because the machine had to be able to process bags and boxes of different sizes. Sinamics servo drives and a fail-safe Simatic technology controller from Siemens ultimately made it possible to design a fast, compact machine that can handle different types of packaging.

The commissioning of the actual machine was also much shorter thanks to virtual commissioning

The digital twin enables parallelization

Using a digital twin of the new machine, it was possible for designers, engineers, and programmers to work on the same project simultaneously, while constantly exchanging ideas and sharing experiences. This enabled the machine builder to reduce programming time, design effort and assembly time by a total of 50 percent. The commissioning of the actual machine was also shorter thanks to virtual commissioning with NX MCD. Tor Morten Stadum, PLM Manager at Tronrud Engineering, sums up the results of the parallel execution of development steps in an interdisciplinary team: “We shortened the design phase by about ten percent and commissioning by 20 to 25 percent.”

Because the machine and all its components were designed in completely virtual environments, it was possible to use the digital twins to simulate machine and component behavior and test the interoperability of individual components. Collisions occurred only on the computer without causing any actual damage. Other efficiency gains came from the TIA Portal. “It’s fantastic to be able to access visualization, control, and drive technology in the same software environment,” says Kjell Erik Meier, who was responsible for the virtual commissioning of the new machine.

In addition, MindSphere – Siemens’ cloud-based, open IoT operating system – facilitated documentation and data analysis for the Norwegian machine builder. From the machine data, a digital twin for performance is created, from which new knowledge can be gained and used to further optimize the machines and initiate predictive maintenance activities. Now the company can offer these maintenance activities to its customers as a new service. According to Tronrud, his company will continue to focus on new opportunities for enhancing its competitiveness. “Digitalization is a tremendous opportunity. The important thing is not to be afraid of challenges, but to take full advantage of the opportunity it gives us to create added value.”