Digital twin aids in virtual commissioning

Jan. 10, 2022
Rockwell Automation advises designing machines to deliver the data you need

Andrew Jaap is business manager—motion, Rockwell Automation.

What have been the biggest improvements to motor and drives in the past five years?

Andrew Jaap, business manager—motion, Rockwell Automation: There’s a growing demand for access to machine data to better understand and improve operations, and drives are helping meet this need.

The control loops in drives are faster than ever, and that gives you more access to actionable data. Drives also have new smart capabilities like a virtual torque sensor, which uses the motor as a torque sensor to get data on what’s happening in the driven load. When this data is contextualized, it can give you insights into how your application is running.

For example, it could tell operators that a web of material may be breaking because it’s starting to thin out. The data can also give you maintenance insights, like if a mechanical drivetrain is out of adjustment, that in the past would have required external sensors and people to do data analysis.

Drives are also advancing to meet growing functional safety demands. Increasingly, a safe-torque-off safety function alone isn’t enough on a drive. It also needs functions like safe limited torque and safe limited acceleration. Users are increasingly looking at their applications from a system perspective, where production technologies like robotics can move and interact more closely. Drives with safety functions enable this by helping the technologies move and interact in a safe and predictable manner.

What’s the most innovative or efficient motor/drive application you’ve ever seen or been involved with?

Andrew Jaap, business manager—motion, Rockwell Automation: Servo drives and motors are playing a central role in helping transform operations to address challenges like the skills gap.

For example, setup axis has traditionally been a manual job, such as when a worker pours product into vibrating orientation bins. But now, servo-driven robots are helping automate these types of jobs, in this case by picking and orientating product. This allows you to refocus your production talent on areas where their skills can be better applied.

Greater customization and the trend of the “SKU for you” is another need that servo drives are helping address. In the past, changing packaging sizes or other product aspects has required hard stops and resets on a line. Now, these activities are increasingly automated and programmable. A machine can adjust on the fly to each product or package variation coming down the line. Or changeovers can happen near instantaneously with the push of a button.

In one case, an equipment builder created a new servo-driven palletizer that achieves robotic-like precision and a high level of flexibility, all in a conventional design. The palletizer can manage both standard and challenging products. Load-observer tuning technology helps maintain smooth and accurate performance regardless of the product being palletized. And changeovers from one package type or layer pattern to another happen automatically using information from inputs like barcode scanners.

How have motors and drives benefitted from remote monitoring and connectivity?

Andrew Jaap, business manager—motion, Rockwell Automation: Remote connectivity is helping improve how machines are monitored and maintained. Data from a drive or motor can alert you to a machine issue much sooner than relying on operators to hear mechanical issues. What’s more, remote connectivity can give your service provider instant access to machine data. This can speed up troubleshooting compared to having on-site staff explain an issue or waiting for a support engineer to fly out to investigate the problem.

But the important thing to know is that data exists and can be delivered however it best suits your needs. Perhaps data from a virtual torque sensor that indicates a potential mechanical issue is best delivered in the form of a stacklight on the machine and an alarm on an HMI. And performance data like output can be better-suited for dashboards and reports.

Regardless, the data you need exists, and your machine can be architected to deliver it in a way that meets your needs. If data is being accessed remotely, it’s essential that this architecture incorporate layers of security, such as access control and encrypted communications.

Also read: Ease of use dominates motor and drive trends

Can you explain how software development has changed motor and drive design and production?

Andrew Jaap, business manager—motion, Rockwell Automation: Machine designers should be thinking of their work from a digital perspective, because there are big time and cost savings to realize there.

First of all, if you’re a designer, you shouldn’t be working across several software packages. An integrated design environment can give you a single place to design, build, configure and test your projects, all using a common interface. It can also give you access to capabilities like libraries of reusable code that can reduce programming time and help you create more consistent, repeatable projects. And it can allow you to seamlessly switch between the design environment and simulation tools to help you work more efficiently.

And with digital engineering capabilities like digital twins and a digital thread, design work can be completely redefined. In a digital environment, you can throw out the constraints that come with physical prototyping. Instead, you can create a machine, make changes to it with just a few clicks and put it through its paces before you order parts or cut steel.

How do motors and drives figure into digital-twin platform models being used by manufacturers?

Andrew Jaap, business manager—motion, Rockwell Automation: Digital twin software offers tremendous value at the design stage and will beyond it.

Rather than buying parts and spending days of labor on creating a physical prototype, you can apply physics to your 3D CAD and simulate its performance. You can see how the drives and motors run and watch how the entire machine runs or watch how it interacts with people and other machines. This can help you shave weeks off your design time and ultimately deliver better performing or customized machines.

A digital twin can also save you money and heartache during commissioning. The traditional approach is to do controls testing when a machine is on-site. But if the control system and machine aren’t aligned, it can require costly last-minute fixes and lead to delayed startups. Virtual commissioning helps you avoid these risks by identifying potential issues earlier. It uses a simulated digital twin of your machine to perform controls testing before the machine is on-site or maybe even before it’s built.

A digital twin of your machine also offers value once a machine is deployed. It can be leveraged for virtual training, giving operators a safe virtual environment to learn the machine’s operations and to test their skills in conditions that aren’t easily replicated in real-world training. Production engineers can also use a digital twin to test changes before implementing them on a physical machine.

When will motors and drives become IT-friendly enough that engineers are no longer required for installation and operation?

Andrew Jaap, business manager—motion, Rockwell Automation: We don’t foresee a future where engineers won’t be required. But we do see a need to continue advancing technology to ease the burden put on engineering staff given the challenges companies face today in finding and retaining skilled workers.

For example, tuning a servo drive used to be a highly specialized skill set. But drives now have capabilities like “load observer” and adaptive tuning technologies. They allow tuning-less startups to help simplify and speed up commissioning. And they can make automatic adjustments during a machine’s operation to help keep it running smoothly across its lifespan.

Automatic device configuration is another built-in capability that can ease the job of engineers. It allows a control system to automatically configure a replacement device to the same settings as its predecessor for faster, simpler replacements.

What future innovations will impact the use of motors and drives in discrete-manufacturing operations?

Andrew Jaap, business manager—motion, Rockwell Automation: We will likely see operations that use discrete automation continue to evolve using smarter, more complex and more coordinated automation. These operations include automated material-handling applications in production environments, as well as warehouse operations, where there continues to be a strong desire to make activities more coordinated and efficient.

Driving all this will be the proliferation of scalable servo drives and newer, highly efficient motors. Functional safety will also be a critical enabler. It’s what allows technologies like robots and servo-driven movers to move freely and interact with people and machines. And of course robust cybersecurity will be crucial to all of these technologies communicating with each other in a secure manner.

Tell us about your company’s state-of-the-art motor or drive?

Andrew Jaap, business manager—motion, Rockwell Automation: We recently expanded our Kinetix line of servo drives with the addition of the Kinetix 5300 servo drive. This creates a complete family of scalable servo drives that you can use for applications ranging from stand-alone machines to larger complex systems. It also allows you to program all your drives in one design environment and reuse code across your drives to ease design and commissioning.

The Kinetix family of drives also delivers advanced capabilities in areas like networking, safety and security. For instance, security is top of mind for everyone. If you’re upgrading devices like drives and you want to use more intelligent solutions, you want built-in security to help protect your operations.

Our servo drives have built-in security, and the Kinetix 5300 and 5700 servo drives are both CIP Security capable. CIP Security was developed by ODVA and is the only standard designed to secure communications between industrial control devices on an EtherNet/IP network.

About the author: Mike Bacidore
About the Author

Mike Bacidore | Editor in Chief

Mike Bacidore is chief editor of Control Design and has been an integral part of the Endeavor Business Media editorial team since 2007. Previously, he was editorial director at Hughes Communications and a portfolio manager of the human resources and labor law areas at Wolters Kluwer. Bacidore holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MBA from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He is an award-winning columnist, earning multiple regional and national awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He may be reached at [email protected]