Technologies for Virtual Commissioning - Maplesoft Engineering Solutions

Technologies for Virtual Commissioning

For virtual commissioning to be a practical technology for the manufacturing and automation industry, the creation and function of virtual plant models needs to be sufficient for their usage outside of niche experts or simplified demonstrations. The development of advanced, model-driven design practices has taken form in what the automation industry is now referring to as a digital twin, which refers to the virtual plant models in question while differentiating itself from the historical, typically simpler models that were unable to function as fully as their modern counterparts. In addition to these digital twins, the software standards for model connectivity have also seen drastic improvements. Together, these technologies are permitting the widespread practicality of virtual commissioning (VC) throughout the automation industry.

Model-Driven Digital Twins

A digital twin is a dynamic, virtual representation of a corresponding physical product. These models can range widely in their purpose and fidelity, but they serve as a powerful connection to the product for diagnostics, design changes, and the VC process. Companies are increasingly using digital twins to optimize their products in ways that were previously either unrealistic or impossible.

With system-level modeling tools like MapleSim, the creation of a model-driven digital twin can begin alongside the design process. While past attempts at virtual commissioning employed the use of model-based techniques, they lacked the fidelity and flexibility required to make the process feasible for common usage. Now, modeling tools allow engineers to begin their process by importing their CAD information from other tools. The CAD import technology has become an important development to make digital twins more accessible to the automation market. Model-driven digital twins are now an important, emerging trend in the automation industry, making VC more accessible and adding a variety of other capabilities to other parts of the design process.

Functional Mock-Up Interface

A challenge that had to be overcome before VC could really take off was how to seamlessly connect the required models together. The complex physics of a given plant model were typically simulated using a platform that operated differently than the logic-based systems of PLC design. In 2010, the Functional Mock-up Interface (FMI) was developed as a standard interface for a variety of model-based processes.

The FMI standard is a collection of all the necessary information for a given model, organized in a way that allows for import and export with a variety of software tools. It is defined as single, archive-based file containing variable definitions, a full set of system equations in C code or a compiled library, and all other parameters relevant to the particular model. In some ways, the FMI standard bears resemblance to a Simulink® S-Function, which is another common technology for integrating model-based tools. FMI was, in part, developed to overcome the proprietary nature of S-Functions, and to be easier to integrate for simulation tools that require a simpler, tool-independent standard. Subsequently, FMI has gained increasing adoption, and, as of 2017, it is supported by over 40 common engineering tools. With this tool support, FMI is now a key technology for exporting model-based digital twins to the PLC control software for a more integrated test platform.

Next: The Virtual Commissioning Workflow

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