Dr. Wünsch, with your doctorate at the Institute of Machine Tools and Management Sciences in Munich (iwb) you laid the foundation stone for the technical and economic consideration of the subject of „virtual commissioning“.Since then you have been regarded at home and abroad as an expert in the field of simulation and automation with your experience.What is the significance of virtual commissioning in the present day and age?
There is a lot of potential in virtual commissioning, for example the virtual verification of complex mechatronic systems within the development of the product or plant – in other words before the construction of the real plant has even begun. That saves a great deal of effort in the real commissioning, which is naturally reflected in the costs. Today’s virtual commissioningneeds to be „thought“ further however. It’s no longer sufficient to end the verification process with the start of production. The goal of the virtual plant development must be to reuse the knowledge that is bundled in the model, be it as a digital twin for the production, in the maintenance and service area, as a software add-on for the end customer or for the reusability of models for follow-up development projects as well as lessons learned in the project management – as the basis along the entire added value chain.
machineering develops the „industrialPhysics“ simulation software.To what extent can this software be used for the virtual commissioning?
IndustrialPhysics is a comprehensive engineering tool with which both complex machine components and interlinked plants can be virtually mapped. Thanks to the integrated physics core, the machine’s behaviour and its processes can be visualised realistically in the same way as the machine would also move in reality. IndustrialPhysics thereby functions as a simulation platform with which the mechanical, electrical and automation departments can cooperate right from the very start. That enables the evaluation of design concepts and tests, the optimisation of control code and the planning of the robotics even in the early development phases.
What opportunities and risks do you envisage for companies through investment in virtual commissioning?
As I mentioned at the start, companies have an enormous added value when they carry out virtual commissioning, regardless of the size of the company. One field study that I conducted within the context of my doctorate on the subject of „Economic consideration of virtual commissioning“ showed that a shortening of the commissioning time by up to 75%, a shortening of the total lead time by up to 15%, an increase in the software quality by up to 45% and ultimately a lowering of the costs by up to 50% are possible. Our customers also confirm these figures.
I don’t see a risk with virtual commissioning, but there is extra expenditure due to the front-loading of the development activities. That means a shifting of the activities from the real commissioning to the development phase. However, that is offset by the advantages, for example the immediate checking of feasibilities. This corresponds to the common knowledge that problems cause lower costs the earlier they are found in the development process.
What prerequisites does a company need for successful virtual commissioning?
Basically none – apart from the will to implement it – and that represents a big challenge in some companiesat the moment.
Mostly the colleagues have to create the simulation models from the design – that’s additional expenditure that doesn’t directly have a positive effect on their work result, at least not in the first step. It is first and foremost their colleagues from the commissioning department who reap the benefits – and that’s a general difficulty when using new digital technologies. The beneficiary is not the same person who has to do the work in the first step. This dilemma is currently only solvable through an intelligent design of the company’s internal interfaces and evaluation systems, because when everybody pulls together the virtual commissioning can unfold its full potential and the initial investment can already be amortised with the implementation of the first machine; this means that the costs are not the problem in the company.
However, there is currently a further challenge. Our experience has shown that companies that want to integrate virtual commissioning into their process as standard are currently struggling with a difficult human resources problem, because for optimum implementation of the virtual commissioning the „simulation process“ must be practised in the company and resources built up for it. Due to the currently healthy order books there is a lack of staff. My tip at this point: start small.
Where do you see optimisation possibilities within the virtual commissioning?
In order to ensure the consistency of virtual commissioning in the company, development as one encounters it in most companies nowadays needs to be reorganised. At present the mechanical, electrical and automation departments work sequentially, mostly without consulting one another sufficiently. The work packets only come together in the commissioning and only then do problems become visible that are difficult to rectify promptly.
The goal of the development must be that the development areas work together on a project from the very start and commission every development step, however small, that is to say check it for feasibility – this is the so-called Continuous Commissioning. IndustrialPhysics is a simulation platform on which all results run together, but where each department can nonetheless continue to work in its own native environment.
In order to be able to carry out virtual commissioning optimally in future, a new profession is urgently required – the mechatronic technician, who ideally combines all skills from mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and automation in one person.
In which markets do you see the greatest need for virtual commissioning?
The potential due to virtual commissioning is enormous in all companies with a high level of automation. Just consider what the standstill of a machine costs – regardless of whether in the real commissioning, in production, in case of failure or conversions.
What is your forecast of how virtual commissioning will develop in the machine construction and automation technology markets?
Virtual commissioning will become the standard in the coming years and will be indispensable in the future.
Thank you very much for this interesting discussion.
You would like to know more or have questions about virtual commissioning? We will be happy to advise you!