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DRIVERS OF ADVANCED MACHINE ENGINEERING Advanced machine engineering - Technological innovations driving change

Oct 18, 2021

Innovative technologies are rapidly advancing machine engineering processes, driving positive change in the industry, prompting companies of all sizes to meet the challenges and trends facing machinery manufacturers towards these evolutionary approaches, thus enabling machine manufacturers to take advantage of industry trends to drive the adoption of new technologies. The Cover Story outlines the trends, technologies and processes in place that are driving advanced machine engineering.

It is an intimidating mission to design, validate and manage modern-day manufacturing and assembly machines to achieve first-class quality while optimising cost. Advanced machine engineering marries the development of the digital twin with the collaboration of the many disciplines to develop the machine into a complete solution suite. These are complex, multidisciplinary designs – combining mechanical electrical and fluids – requiring a single source of truth in design to address the back-and-forth process that exists between engineering silos. In addition, because nearly all machines require automation code, advanced machine engineering enables virtual machine simulation, testing out the PLC code in a virtual world with a digital machine, before testing it on a physical machine. This addresses the need to validate what the machine will do before installation on the factory floor, only to discover errors. Therefore, anything that was tested physically in the past can now be simulated virtually.

Industrial machine industry – Trends

Industry megatrends are affecting customers operating machines within their respective industry audience. Technology advancements are driving industrial machinery companies to realise Industry 4.0, with some staggering implications. Consider the following trends that are reshaping the engineering, manufacturing and service operations for most machinery suppliers:

  • Consumer driven customisation – Machines automate processes to help companies lower costs & expedite delivery of their goods to the end-user. Hence, trends in the broader consumer market ultimately end up defining what machinery customers need. A typical consumer product’s development cycle is compressing – lot sizes are smaller and product life spans are shorter. So, machinery customers need machines that are more flexible and adaptable to an ever-changing product mix, often with customised features or functions that require machine builders to innovate more quickly.

  • Smart machines - Machinery component suppliers have completely embraced IoT enabled devices. Thus, machinery manufacturers are on a steep learning curve in knowing how to take advantage of the available information. The number of I/O (input/output device-driven) channels and different communication protocols (wired networks, and wireless 5G) provide an order of magnitude increase in information flow compared to recent years. Therefore, automation code developers are forced to choose which channels to use while building more intelligent machines.

  • Hyper automation – Discrete programming is enabling machine users to gain insights from all the IoT information. The hyper-automation trend requires vast amounts of data & cloud-based analytics to accelerate learning about machine behaviour and performance to automate machine functions. Also, hyper automation is enabled by the emergence of low-code tools that help machine users mine data analytics for many business processes, including manufacturing optimisation, engineering reliability and cost reductions.

  • Global innovation and competition – Global, highly innovative competition has always existed, but now the challenge comes from more flexible, agile start-up companies that begin from the basis of machine learning and are not encumbered by existing business processes or legacy customer engagements. Some offer Production-as-a-Service (PaaS) and other innovative software-enabled service monitoring tools and machine optimisations – even on competitor’s machines.

Advanced machine design – Customisation and simulation

Therefore, the above listed trends are driving consumer-driven customisation, thus resulting in immense changes in machinery. People expect to get what they want when they want it. This equates to a shorter lifespan for these products. Manufacturers need to ramp up very quickly to rapidly produce sophisticated products while supporting more variants. Advanced machine design is being impacted by this dynamic towards customisation and escalating the pace of change. Consequently, machines need to be more adaptable in reacting to changing consumer trends. Performing simulation earlier in the design is enabling the generative design movement in CAD. Instead of designing first and then simulating afterwards to uncover problems with the design, the generative design uses forces, kinematics and the constraints in the design to assist in shaping it. Also, this is useful even when not using Additive Manufacturing technologies. Simultaneously, there is an increase in collaborative multi-discipline design, with much electrification in advanced machinery that it is difficult and challenging to simulate without a way to validate the PLC and automation code that governs the machine. The technology and tools are now in place to significantly drive change and exponentially increase efficiency, giving a true competitive advantage to machine builders, helping them to deliver machines into the market faster.

These advanced machine engineering capabilities enable a truly comprehensive digital twin with multidisciplinary design, virtual machine simulation & commissioning and a multidisciplinary bill of materials. Let’s discuss these differentiators in further detail.

Key differentiators – Multi-disciplinary design, virtual commissioning and multi-configuration management

The following solution differentiators are separating Variant Configuration (VC) and multi-configuration Bill of Material (BOM) management:

  • Multi-disciplinary design – Machine manufacturers are leveraging a multi-disciplinary design to make their manufacturing more efficient. Multi-disciplinary design is defined as assessing the complexities of building a machine, including engineering the design and manufacturing. Traditionally, most machine manufacturers focused on CAD and manufacturing parts within tolerance for everything to function mechanically and the mechanical arrangement and assembly related to the machine. The machine was primarily a mechanical piece of equipment, like yesterday’s automobile or airplane. Therefore, the mechanical design was in one area with the electrical design, while the schematics and software development were in their separate silos. However, the industrial machinery paradigm is changing. For example, the electrical motors and rotary equipment to move camshaft gears are driven by software and PLC codes, thus accelerating performance-based programs in recent years. The software is adaptable to conditions on the floor and the machine reacting to real-time sensor readings. Even something as simple as a cylinder extending and retracting can be based on a pressure differential and flow regulation that were unavailable to small- and medium-sized businesses a few years ago due to prohibitive cost. As a result, more mechanical capabilities and features are being replaced by software. It’s a game-changer for every machine designer. Multi-disciplinary design is a blending of capabilities and skill sets in a more collaborative environment. This scenario pays dividends in quality output of the machine design – everything works together and has its place. It is more of an art form than bolted on electrical, sensors and cable-runs – it is an integrated solution. Therefore, it is creating harmony in the multi-disciplinary design that did not exist when disciplines were in silos, thus transitioning into advances in simulation.

  • Virtual machine simulation and commissioning – A second differentiator provided by advanced machine engineering is virtual machine simulation and commissioning. This refers to how a machine proves or validates the software code in the virtual world before physically operating on the factory floor. The behaviour of the machines is being driven by software, which is why simulating the code running on a virtual twin of the machine generates substantial dividends in time and resources. With virtual commissioning, the PLC software validates in a managed environment with a full modular product development strategy. Now, machine builders have the simulation upfront and can link the software to the modules. This set up is a ground-breaking achievement for companies to be competitive in this space.

    Moreover, virtual simulation provides a physical safety aspect because if the machine collides in the virtual world, it is substantially safer and less costly to fix than on a physical machine. Virtual commissioning drives the behaviour of the motors, integrating that into the kinematics. This is powerful because a mechanism on a machine might move faster than expected, leading to an actual impact load greater than what was anticipated. Replicating the kinematics in virtual commissioning uncovers potential hazards leading to a swift resolution. Furthermore, by embracing virtual commissioning and visualisation, machine builders bring customers into a virtual reality wall to interact with the machine in its digital form. From a financial perspective, this pays huge dividends because no one purchases a machine sight unseen. Also, they will not purchase it merely on a claim of virtual simulation via running software code. Therefore, a customer needs to substantiate that a machine works before it is shipped to their plant.

    Many software integrations and safety factors are necessary to run a machine, and this becomes a stressful and monumental task to perform physically with the customer in attendance. Therefore, the virtual world is ideal for turning a machine on and carrying out commissioning. There is less pressure for both the machine builder and its customers. It brings together the engineering upfront in the design, with the collaboration of various disciplines for testing the machine code.

  • Bill of Materials (BOM) – A third differentiator of advanced machine engineering is the multi-disciplinary BOM for machine builders as they create more sophisticated, smart machines. It gives manufacturers greater flexibility to respond to customer demands for customisation. Every machine and every order that a machine builder receives is often a new project. Consequently, machine builders need a way to track the diverse options and variants, for integrating requirements along with project and change management, while managing the entire BOM throughout the product life. This means from the original engineering design, through manufacturing and then managing that machine bill of materials throughout its service life, a level of planning capability is required for every engineering discipline, providing a more agile approach. Also, there is a need for traceability of customer requirements, engineering requirements and activity that is performed by the design engineer, electrical engineer and controls engineer for executing the project. This includes the journey from high-level customer requirements specification document through the BOM structure and attaching it to the actual task that is necessary for the deliverable. This process provides a level of capability for ensuring and reducing the risk in meeting customer requirements, leading into the topic of the sophisticated software solutions that are implemented into every machine.

Industrial machinery – Advancing software solutions for smarter machine

Advanced software is a necessity for machine manufacturers facing competitive globalisation, shrinking margins, rapidly expanding customisation, environmental and government regulations, as well as Industry 4.0 and other smart factory initiatives. In the face of these significant challenges, machines must be smarter. If a company is unable to address the complexity that comes with adding software to their machines or developing an advanced machine from customer requirements to compete aggressively on a global basis, their days of profitable growth are limited. Essentially, the core requirement is becoming machine design innovative in the operation and development process. The difference between a company being good and great comes down to the quality and innovation in their automation code. Great code provides intuitive user interfaces, promotes ease of use and takes advantage of new hardware capabilities and software algorithms to help machines move faster, more safely and with less wear and physical stress on components. However, writing great code is not enough, as the lines of code in machines today have an increased magnitude of complexity. Therefore, it is critical to test that code in the virtual world and run it through all the use cases before loading it on the physical machine.

Companies are under pressure to deliver more customised machines faster with added complexity. It’s no longer possible to rely on and safely physically validate the machine. Every machine is released to the customer with a set of binaries that represent the compiled machine operation and UI code. With conventional practices, programmers scramble to get last-minute changes to the code locked in before the machine ships. In this chaotic environment, it is imperative to retain a locked version of the final code to use for several purposes – service, catastrophic backup, lessons learned for future machines and upgrades to previous machines in the field. Having a code repository is not enough. Each software variant must be traceable and retrievable to the serial number machine as part of the machine bill of material. Through the machine life, future upgrades in both hardware and software need a traceable system record, representing the living digital twin of the machine.

Industrial machinery – Digital twin

The digital twin holistically is a representation of the physical machine – its performance and recipe for manufacturing it. It corresponds to everything that constitutes the machine: mechanical, electrical, hydraulic, fluid, pneumatics, design domains, performance, simulation and automation code. Moreover, the digital twin encompasses the manufacturing and service life, basically having a digital version of the as-maintained, as-serviced machine from the point of origination through to end-of-life, when it gets recycled. There is a blurring of lines between mechanical, electrical and software, so there cannot be a digital twin of the machine without representing all the domains. Also, a comprehensive digital twin is imperative because every function a machine performs depends on an integration of mechanical, electric, pneumatics and software domains. Therefore, these domains must be included in the digital twin to assist in creating and maintaining the most comprehensive digital twin.

As machines become more complex and machine builders create more variants that requires a digital twin of each machine built, there needs to be traceability of the machine’s serial number at the point it is released through manufacturing and into service life. Advanced machine engineering innovations, like digital twin, impact all areas of manufacturing to affect the operations of a plant positively.

Expediting next-gen virtual simulation into manufacturing

The market is ripe for proficient experts uniquely positioned with capabilities for providing customers with the solutions by serving the product improvement process. The next generation of software is advancing beyond current versions. The methods for engineering are transitioning and becoming exponentially more proficient than a decade ago. The technology and tools are driving change to significantly increase efficiency to create true competitive advantages for machine builders and suppliers by expediting the delivery of machines into the market via advanced machine engineering.

Advanced machine engineering solutions are emerging today that address the challenges and trends that are driving the machinery industry today. These include multi-discipline design, virtual machine simulation & commissioning and multidisciplinary BOM and configuration management. Multidisciplinary design enables collaboration between the various disciplines, including mechanical, electrical, software and fluids, all within a single design environment, thus, the need to build an accurate digital twin that supports these disciplines. Furthermore, virtual machine simulation and commissioning is enabled by tightly integrating the simulation solution supporting parallel product development. Finally, there are now advanced capabilities for managing the entire BOM for all the options and variants required to advance machine builder support throughout its product life, from the original engineering design through manufacturing, and into service life.

Courtesy: Siemens Digital Industries Software

Image Gallery

  • Manufacturers need to ramp up very quickly to rapidly produce sophisticated products while supporting more variants

  • Instead of designing first and then simulating afterwards to uncover problems with the design, the generative design uses forces, kinematics and the constraints in the design to assist in shaping it

  • Advanced software is a necessity for machine manufacturers facing competitive globalisation, shrinking margins, rapidly expanding customisation, environmental and government regulations, as well as Industry 4.0 and other smart factory initiatives

  • A comprehensive digital twin is imperative because every function a machine performs depends on an integration of mechanical, electric, pneumatics and software domains. Therefore, these domains must be included in the digital twin to assist in creating and maintaining the most comprehensive digital twin.

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