What is Virtual Commissioning?

Written By: Eric Kam
  • 4/14/2021
  • Read Time : 3:30 min
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Editor's Note: This post was co-written by Eric Kam and Jonas Ljungsten

Is Virtual Commissioning Equivalent to Traditional Machine Commissioning?

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 similar fashion as during traditional commission, only virtually.

Virtual Commissioning for Final Assembly Lines

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.

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 a 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 construction of the machines to conduct the commissioning reviews.

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Virtual Commissioning of future machines considering Human Factors with IC.IDO by ESI Group
(Images are courtesy of Volkswagen and MAN Truck)

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 in 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.

With 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 adapting 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.

Stay safe and productive!

ESI’s human centric solution for product & process validation (IC.IDO) is a well-established industry solution for addressing product integration, human performed service and manufacturing process engineering challenges.  IC.IDO enables users to intuitively experience new products and processes through real-time immersive virtual environment, purpose-built for industrial use cases and collaboration in the global enterprise. 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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About the Author

Eric Kam Eric Kam is an Industry Marketing Manager for ESI-Group. He shares responsibility for evangelizing engineering applications applied to product design, engineering and process planning to evaluate, identify, and resolve potential issues that prevent OEMs from reaching their desired outcome: Safe, productive, and sustainable future products. An enthusiastic advocate in advancing extended reality (XR) solutions for product engineering, assembly method & maintenance process planning using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies; Eric is an outspoken digital transformation advocate, seeking to democratize simulation & analysis technologies. Eric is a longtime member-leader of SME technical communities, with a BSME from Michigan Technological University.