Virtual Commissioning is the Solution You Didn’t Know You Needed

virtual commissioning solution

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is often good advice. But sometimes a situation is so familiar that it is hard to recognize it as broken – it just feels normal. So here are some questions to ask yourself if you’re considering implementing virtual commissioning:

  • Think about the last five problems you found and corrected in your product designs. How much did it cost you to fix them? How much would you have saved if you had noticed these problems before you reached the prototyping phase?
  • Has the need to rework a design late in the development cycle taken your engineering staff away from other projects, resulting in delays or missed opportunities?
  • Have you ever priced yourself out of a competitive bid because your design used more expensive parts, such as more powerful motors, simply because you could not be sure that a less expensive part would fulfill the requirements?
  • Has the difficulty in time-to-market scheduling, due to the unpredictable length of the commissioning phase and subsequent design changes, caused your business difficulties?
  • Have you ever suffered loss of reputation due to a recall or shutdown? How badly would it hurt your business if you did?

Virtual commissioning sounds like an excellent solution, in theory. Take a virtual prototype of your machine, hook it up to a virtual PLC, and test your product virtually before you test it physically. Early testing lets you identify problems sooner so you can make design changes before the expensive physical integration phase. As a result, you save time, money, and headaches. What’s not to like?

But is it feasible?

Your current development process works and changing any process is a hassle and comes with its own costs. How can you tell if adopting virtual commissioning would be worth it? And even if it is, is virtual commissioning truly a workable solution for your company today?

Consider this – if you were using virtual commissioning to develop, refine, and test your products, you most likely would have:

  • Found and corrected those problems earlier in the development cycle, where it was much less expensive and time consuming to do so.
  • Kept your staff on those other projects, avoiding late penalties, missed opportunities, and loss of momentum.
  • Put in a lower bid with confidence, or been confident that the higher bid was the correct choice.
  • Had more predictable time-to-market schedules.
  • Prevented recall or shutdown and had more confidence that such events are unlikely to occur.

Can you really afford to wait any longer?

Okay, so the benefits are substantial. If you could wave your magic wand and have virtual commissioning implemented in your company tomorrow, you probably would. But it’s never that simple. You may have looked into virtual commissioning a few years ago and decided that it was too difficult to implement. Until recently, practical implementation of virtual commissioning was out of reach. It was considered too difficult to create the models and too difficult for such models to work in tandem with PLC development software.

But since then, modeling technology has advanced significantly. It is now possible to create digital twins using physics-based modeling techniques rather than data. A digital twin can help you realize the benefits of a data-driven digital twin, without having to manage the challenges of expensive sensors, data collection, and black-box behavioral algorithms. Since it doesn’t need test data to predict behavior, the model-driven twin can be used for conceptual design work, before a physical prototype has been constructed. It can then be connected to your controllers to test integration in a virtual commissioning phase, ironing out the issues you’d otherwise find on the production floor. As a result, today’s model-based digital twins put the benefits of virtual commissioning within reach even for smaller automation companies.

Companies are using digital twins across industries, allowing them to optimize their products in ways that were previously impossible. A virtual commissioning solution provides undeniable benefits to automation companies. From reducing cost over-runs to lowering risks, shortening development cycles, and making you more competitive, the benefits are obvious. With model-based digital twins, virtual commissioning is now more affordable and much more manageable, making it a viable solution for even small companies.

Charlotte Blinston, Maplesoft

Charlotte Turnbull

Charlotte Turnbull is a contributor to Charlotte holds an undergraduate degree in computer science and a master’s degree in biomedical engineering.