virtual commissioning

Virtual commissioning is the practice of using 3D technology to create a simulation model of a manufacturing plant so that proposed changes and upgrades can be tested before they are implemented to the actual plant.

How virtual commissioning works

The simulation model provides a virtual environment for a manufacturing automation controls engineer to validate programmable logic controller (PLC ) ladder logic and human-machine interface (HMI) files before the manufacturing system is debugged in a production environment. In some cases, the simulation is performed on a Digital twin -- a virtual representation of a product or manufacturing system.

PLC programs control the tooling, robots, transfer lines and other equipment that comprise highly automated manufacturing systems. With virtual commissioning, PLC code can be debugged before it is downloaded to real equipment.

Benefits of virtual commissioning

By confirming virtually that automation equipment works as expected, system startup time can be reduced. 

Virtual commissioning also allows tests to be run in simulation mode that might risk damage to machinery or harm to workers if carried out in real time. This approach can lead to better software quality and increased safety.

A look at Siemens' virtual commissioning software

Virtual commissioning provides many benefits: Total engineering time and prototype waste are reduced, errors -- because they are detected earlier -- are less expensive to correct and software quality is increased.

Virtual commissioning can be especially beneficial to manufacturers whose production systems have a high level of automation complexity.

Virtual commissioning software

Several vendors, including Siemens PLM Software, Visual Components, Machineering, Dassault Systèmes, ISG-virtuos, Emulate3D and Xcelgo offer virtual commissioning software for a variety of manufacturing and warehouse systems.

When evaluating virtual commissioning software, some experts recommend tools that offer high-quality graphics, real-life signal-based simulation, reliable collision detection and strong discrete event simulation capabilities. The software also should support a variety of PLC and HMI brands and provide for a smooth transition between virtual and physical environments.

This was last updated in July 2018

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