Editor's Note: This post was co-written by Jonas Ljungsten and Eric Kam.
New production equipment and manufacturing plants are not ordered from catalogs, instead, the specifications and requirements for new production lines are commissioned—engineered, negotiated, and hopefully accepted between the customer and vendor to define a designed-to-fit production line. However, traditional commissioning exposes vendors and customers to significant “work-at-risk” because, in commissioning, the equipment is reviewed interactively, with real people walking around, inspecting, and even operating functional prototypes or even the actual equipment on order. Commissioning milestone reviews often trigger new engineering investment or additional construction to gain acceptance and avoid refusal of the project. Virtual commissioning aims to reduce or even eliminate the reliance on physical construction to minimize risk and cost for all parties.
Virtual commissioning employs 3D modeling to test capabilities, evaluate functionality, and identify potential improvements based on digital models — digital twin — without waiting for physical construction. Virtual commissioning can be conducted at varying levels; it might simulate a complete production line, or it may be limited to a work cell or single assembly task. Whether virtual commissioning can fulfill machine commissioning requirements depends on whether planned equipment is used in processes that deterministic simulation & analysis cannot reliably predict, like those tasks requiring interactions by human resources, many issues can remain undiscovered until people freely interact with the machines. Because the real machines are not available until later, human centric process issues are often discovered after virtual commissioning, too late to resolve cost-effectively. That is unless we can find a way to allow humans to experience the digital model in a similar fashion as during traditional commission, only virtually.
The need to define meaningful digital twins means extending the digital thread beyond managing the CAD geometry and configurations typically mapped via Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) systems. Capturing the details of manufacturing process planning and digital commissioning will only increase the speed required to record changes to product data and manufacturing process simulations. This generates a significant increase in the demand to define and re-run simulations; iterating with product and process variants where the simulations might appear nearly identical but with subtle yet critical changes. The need to close the aforementioned gap by addressing Human Centric product & process validations is a key motivation behind PTC collaborating with solution providers like ESI Group.
In an effort to enable highly efficient workflows for virtual exploration, validation, and commissioning of Assembly Lines, ESI and PTC are collaborating to enable a digital thread between the PTC’s Windchill (Enterprise PLM) and the ESI Human Centric Product and Process validation solution, thus effectively providing next-generation workflows for Assembly Line Planning.
Virtual Reality powered engineering solution IC.IDO (Eye-see, I do) is ESI Group’s solution for the validation of products and processes in terms of human interactions. Being able to evaluate these interactions is critical to completing machine commissioning relying solely on virtual or digital assets.
With IC.IDO, manufacturing enterprises bring their digital product concepts, proposed manufacturing equipment, and supporting tooling into a virtual version of the proposed equipment for commissioning. Once the product geometry is brought in, stakeholders will be able to experience their machines from the first-person point of view using immersive virtual reality (VR). There they can define and evaluate physical behaviors and interactions between human operators, proposed machines being commissioned, and future products all without waiting for the construction of the machines to conduct the commissioning reviews.
Addressable challenges in a human centric product and process validation include interactive collision handling between solid objects and elastic hoses or cables, physics-based behavior of complex kinematic mechanisms, recording and export of interactive installation/removal paths, ergonomics and human factors. This enables the validation of machine layout, manufacturing cell plans, and space allocation. Virtual Reviews within IC.IDO can connect remote participants into a common virtual environment to experience machine commissioning personally. Observations can be captured, machine behaviors and effects can be recorded and stored in the session and are available for export for documentation and possible downstream uses like digital work instructions.
Virtual exploration, validation and commissioning of Human Centric Assembly Cells and Lines can support manufacturing enterprises with efficient collaboration between product and manufacturing engineering teams, suppliers, pilot facilities, industrialization partners, and assembly line operations teams, thus reducing the need for physical builds while minimizing travel and in-person reviews. By this approach, you can secure a ‘first-time right’ start of production, while staying agile in managing changes and updates to your assembly lines, quickly adapt to changes in demand or available workforce. While this may not close every potential gap between conventional machine commissioning and a completely digital workflow, virtual commissioning is significantly closer to reality.
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ESI’s Human Centric solution has helped companies to win recognition for Worker Health & Safety Standards while improving the productivity and working conditions for assembly line workers and maintenance operators.
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