First virtual, then real

In a computer simulation, you first play through and test what has to work in reality – science fiction in industry so to speak. This is the aim of virtual commissioning. Thomas Kirner is Team Manager – Support Teams and expert for virtual commissioning at KUKA and explains in an interview what lies behind virtual technology and how it saves our customers time and money.

Thomas KirnerWhat lies behind the term virtual commissioning? And what do we need it for?

Increasing complexity, a more diverse product range and, at the same time, the demand for shorter integration times – automation will face major challenges in the future. One of KUKA’s answers to these challenges is virtual commissioning.

But right from the start: In virtual commissioning, a system is realistically simulated virtually. This means that planned designs can be analyzed precisely and tested in advance on the digital image. Only then are they transferred to the real plant.

To what extent do KUKA customers benefit from this?

What may sound complicated at first, actually simplifies many things – especially for the customer. This is because virtual commissioning enables errors in the simulation to be detected and corrected at an early stage. This means that all data can be checked in advance, also with regard to compatibility. In this way, everything can be tested before a system is actually commissioned.

We can test automatic operation and special functions directly with the customer. In addition, the time spent by our commissioning colleagues on the construction site is also reduced. All in all, virtual commissioning reduces real costs, because the programming of the plant is significantly shorter and the customer gets to a producing plant faster. This gives the customer increased flexibility in planning and, thanks to high software quality, avoids downtimes. The bottom line is a significant cost saving.

Is it also possible to generate added value for the subsequent operation of the plants? For example, to be able to better detect and eliminate errors?

Absolutely! We have created a possibility to connect the digital twin from the virtual commissioning with the real plant. The virtual image, called virtual shadow, shows exactly what the real plant is doing. The charm of this connection is the option to jump into the past in order to analyze events again in detail. It also gives the customer a fantastic opportunity to optimize the system. We can enrich the virtual shadow with additional real-time information. This allows us to compare planning with reality at any time, which improves the planning of future production lines.

Explanation of terms

Virtual Commissioning
Virtual commissioning means the import, testing and modification of planning data on a virtual machine, also called digital twin. Here it is checked whether all planning data fit together. Only when the software has mastered all the functions of the system to perfection is it transferred to the real machine or system.

Virtual Shadow
A virtual shadow looks like a video of the plant, but is a 3D model. It is driven by the data of the real machine. It is based on the digital twin that is created beforehand in the virtual commissioning. This is the engine that records, processes, encrypts and plays back all data. It can be connected to various 3D visualizations and drives these models with the recorded data. At the same time it offers the possibility of analysis and optimization.

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