What Is Virtual Commissioning?

Updated: Jun 1, 2020

As the need for quicker development cycles while minimizing risks continuously grows, many companies rely on essential techniques such as virtual commissioning and digital twins. In this blog post, we'll look into how virtual commissioning works and elaborate a little why the line between virtual commissioning and digital twins is a bit blurred. Excited? I know I am.

Let's start with virtual commissioning. The name almost sums up the idea: basically, it's drafting, designing, testing, and finally commissioning a plant operating system without building the plants physically and/or testing specific scenarios too hazardous to check on the plant itself. Why? The basic idea has always been to solve potential problems when bringing manufacturing systems together for integration and operation with a PLC (Programmable Logic Controller).

Virtual commissioning involves recreating the behavior of one or more hardware pieces with the dedicated software environment (which is typically done for the system under design). This iterative approach has three main stages: model-in-the-loop (MIL), software-in-the-loop (SIL), and hardware-in-the-loop (HIL). The engineers' task is to emulate an environment mimicking the real automation hardware. They do this to ultimately provide an environment for the manufacturing automation controls engineer to validate their PLC controller algorithms and HMI (Human-Machine Interface) before implementing a possibly flawed design into the plant environment (engineers always have to do some debugging).

Why? Because this improves the quality and enables a seamless transition from the virtual to the physical environment. Another benefit is to deliver plant maintenance operators and machine conductors with realistic virtual environments for training themselves in safe and optimum conditions.

The Blurred Line Between Digital Twin and Virtual Commissioning

When commissioning machine's dynamics, engineers have to use a combination of three things: a digital model (aka digital twin), the controller code conducting motion and responds to sensor feedback, and lastly, a dedicated environment allowing both (PLC and model) to run together.

Virtual commissioning signifies a particular stage of the process. It ends once the final stage (HIL simulation) is completed, which means that the system is ready for the physical commissioning of the production system. Engineers use the data provided from the system (for example, through different sensors) to build a future digital twin of the physical production system. Once sensors are placed in the production system to capture real-time data, the physical commissioning of the system becomes the bridge between the virtual commissioning and digital twin processes.

Have a great day, and as always: stay curious!

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