Digital twins speed up the commissioning process

11 March 2019

Tronrud Engineering produces automation solutions and machines. Among other things, this Norwegian machine building company has made a name for itself with its packaging machines. In developing and commissioning these machines, the company is now taking a completely new direction. Annemarie Loetzsch reports.

The recipe for success of Tronrud Engineering AS is simple: supply high quality, marketable products, always according to schedule at affordable prices. In a highly complex environment like machine building, however, this can only be done with an acute intuition for new possibilities, with the ability to implement new ideas in the right context and, not least, with an appropriate measure of courage. 

This is fully consistent with the motto ‘Putting ideas into practice’. Borne along by this pioneering spirit, Tronrud Engineering has repeatedly adopted new approaches over 40 years and has developed from a one-man business into an agile and internationally successful machine building specialist employing 200 people at three locations. 

One current example of the company’s pioneering spirit is a completely new packaging machine for pillow bags into which, for example, potato chips or lettuce leaves are packed. The new development takes into account the challenges that production companies in the food and beverage industry have to cope with today: shorter times-to-market, improved flexibility and efficiency, as well as a higher product quality. The demand, above all, is for flexible machines that operate quickly and allow a quick changeover between products. The new packaging machine is groundbreaking in this respect: occupying almost the same floor space, it can pack 300 pillow bags per minute into cartons – almost twice as many as the current industry standard.

Digital development environment
Tronrud Engineering put its trust in the Digital Enterprise Suite from Siemens: "The development of the new packaging machine began with a presentation model that was created using NX Mechatronics Concept Designer (MCD) and TIA Portal", explains programming engineer Kjell Erik Meier. 

By using a completely digital development environment with a digital twin of the new machine, designers, engineers and programmers were able to work on the same project simultaneously and continuously exchange ideas. This meant that the total development time – in other words the design, programming, installation and commissioning time – was reduced by 50%. 

Digital twins 
Tronrud Engineering had already relied on products such as Teamcenter, the NX Suite, TIA Portal and other digital tools, because it understands that the implementation of new ideas and technologies can strengthen the competitive position of the company. Tronrud now works consistently with digital twins and takes full advantage of virtual commissioning. 

All components and electric circuit diagrams, as well as the entire automation system at Tronrud Engineering are now developed in completely virtual environments. This allows the behaviour and interaction of all components to be tested, even at early stages of development. 

Machine optimisation 
In an initial stage, based on 3D data of the machine and its components, the NX Mechatronics Concept Designer is used to create a mechatronic model which simulates the physical and kinematic properties of the machine. This virtual model is then linked to the actual PLC program of the real machine for validation of the entire automation system. The SIMATIC S7-PLCSIM Advanced virtual controller is used for this purpose. 

By combining these two simulation models, a digital twin of the actual application is created, this allows the machine to be simulated, validated and optimised until the required behaviour is achieved. A process of trial-and-error in the real world becomes unnecessary. All knowledge gained, as well as faults discovered, can be used for optimisation before the actual production begins. 

The advantages of virtual commissioning are clearly demonstrated by Tronrud Engineering’s new packaging machine, because there are two kinematic systems working in it, whose paths cross. A classic problem area: In the initial stages of development collisions are almost inevitable – as is expensive and time-consuming damage to the machine in the trial-and-error approach. 

"We realised virtual commissioning with the NX tool and the Mechatronic Concept Designer and the PLCSIM Advanced together with TIA Portal", said Meier, who was responsible for the virtual commissioning of the new machine. "Of course, we had some virtual crashes, but they were only virtual ones. Thus the team of developers was able to work faster but in a more relaxed way, and the company saved money.” 

Lower project risk
The conventional path is a completely different one, according to Erik Hjertaas, manager of the Packaging Technology division at Tronrud Engineering: "Traditionally you would do the design, production, assembly – then the software guy starts to program. In this case he actually came out with the software, pushed the button and it worked. No collisions." 

Early fault detection 
How significantly the virtual communication reduces the project risk is described by the rule of tens for fault costs from the Six Sigma approach. This helps to calculate the quotas of faults that occur within a business process and shows that undetected faults propagate themselves along the value-added chain. 

The later a fault is detected, the more expensive it is to eliminate. The costs increase tenfold for each stage of development. The potential of virtual commissioning therefore is also immense in economic terms – particularly for machine and plant constructors in the initial stage, but beyond that for all manufacturing companies.

There is a reduction in time, risks and costs during the actual commissioning also, thanks to the virtual commissioning in advance with NX MCD. Tor Morten Stadum, PLM manager at Tronrud Engineering, explains the advantages of the parallel execution of development phases in an interdisciplinary team: "We have shortened the design phase by about 10% and the commissioning phase by about 20 to 20%. This is a decisive factor for us, because the shortening of working times in the assembly shop enables us to produce more machines."

Annemarie Loetzsch is marketing manager virtual commissioning at Siemens.

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