Virtual test run

Article of 25 May 2016 

Test run on the computer: a virtual startup of production facilities reduces time and costs

Whether it is mobile phones, televisions or car models: companies are bringing new products to the market at ever shorter intervals. Not only product development has to adapt to these short innovation cycles – the production facilities also have to be adapted or redesigned increasingly faster.

Starting up production lines is a time-consuming and hence also expensive process for the plant operator. A virtual startup of production facilities enables these costs to be considerably reduced.

The prerequisite for this is that the real installation is depicted accurately in every detail in the virtual version. Such a depiction requires comprehensive models of the individual components installed in the machine. This includes both geometric CAD data as well as kinematic models of parts of the facility. On a pneumatic cylinder, for example, the geometric data comes from the size among other things. The kinematic model describes the movement in simplified terms, in other words the way the piston rod extends and retracts. In order to be able to perform the virtual startup as realistically as possible, complex physical behaviour models are also necessary. On the cylinder, the air pressures can then be calculated and hence the actual movement of the piston rod simulated.

Virtual startup saves time and costs

When all the geometric, kinematic and physical models of the individual parts of the facility are combined, the result is a complete virtual depiction with very realistic properties. That means that it is possible even at an early stage in the planning to work out how high the cycle rates will be during production. Considerations are then made as to whether this cycle rate is sufficient or whether the speed has to be increased.

By carrying out the virtual startup, initial optimisations to the process sequences can thus be made before constructing the real facility. Even the control software can be developed alongside this process during the early design stages. Not only does that have economic benefits because the time for the startup is reduced. It also increases the level of safety, as various test cases can be run through virtually, in order, for example, to examine errors in the motion sequence or the programming and their effects.

AVANTI research project

Plant manufacturers need detailed behaviour models of components to be able to carry out the virtual startup. In the AVANTI research project, Festo, together with the partners, is developing a way to make this data available to machine manufacturers without revealing too many details about its own products.

Research Experimental Factory

Festo is also carrying out internal research on the virtual startup. The Research Experimental Factory (REF) is a production facility developed by the research department for developing and testing pilot applications for Industry 4.0. The virtual startup is also implemented in this respect.

As an example, the video shows the virtual startup of the “unpacking” station with the Ciros 3D simulation software developed by Festo Didactic.