Engineer looking at display

Advanced Machine Engineering: Technology Changes are Driving Transformation

Oct. 14, 2022
A digital thread approach to engineering encourages collaboration among engineering disciplines and leads to a simulation-driven digital twin.

At a Glance:

  • By adopting a digital thread approach to engineering, machine builders can speed up delivery of tomorrow’s highly complex machines and gain a competitive advantage.
  • Advanced machine engineering fosters visibility from the get-go; machine builders are able to capture and incorporate design feedback from numerous internal and external stakeholders.
  • The author discusses how the virtual process, based on simulation and the digital twin, benefits the entire development and deployment of an advanced machine.

The industrial machinery landscape is rife with unprecedented challenges—supply chain shortages, labor scarcity and entrepreneurial market disruptions. At the same time, machine builders are tackling outdated legacy processes and technologies that threaten growth. These combined industry megatrends are pressing machine builders to rethink how they respond to fluctuating market demands while optimizing quality to remain competitive.

At the same time, changing consumer preferences are driving product manufacturers’ need for highly agile, flexible machines capable of creating a wide range of products. Smarter machines are required that integrate hardware, software and services into one cohesive environment. Machine builders need greater automation to drive higher efficiencies into their processes while competitively differentiating themselves. Moreover, automation can increase sustainability within their operations while promoting the sustainability goals of their end customers.

All these trends are motivating machine builders to transform their day-to-day practices digitally. By implementing a digital thread approach to engineering, machine builders can rapidly deliver tomorrow’s highly complex machines, gaining a competitive advantage against those unencumbered by legacy processes. The digital thread approach takes the form of Advanced Machine Engineering to drive greater certainty in creating next-generation machines. It leverages a cloud-based methodology that encourages collaboration among the fundamental engineering disciplines leading to a simulation-driven digital twin. The result is greater flexibility while improving quality and time-to-market.

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Cloud-based, Multi-discipline Collaboration

Advanced machine engineering leverages the easy accessibility of the cloud to create visibility across the many teams needed to develop today’s smart machines. It encompasses all the engineering disciplines—mechanical, electrical, electronics and software engineering—and merges them into a single source of truth via the cloud. In addition, the approach maximizes data reuse and supports an integrated change process to ensure a standard delivery process.

Engineering teams can now store, access and utilize real-time dashboards, schedules and documents at any time, from anywhere. It drives efficiency into the machine development process, boosting overall productivity. In addition, machine builders can concurrently capture and incorporate design feedback from numerous internal and external stakeholders. This ensures the creation of the most effective machines possible while avoiding delays and managing product costs. By incorporating feedback earlier into the design process, machine builders can also account for supply chain issues and source materials from outside vendors. 

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Simulation-driven Digital Twin & Virtual Commissioning

Cloud-based technology is a critical enabler for creating the digital twin in advanced machine engineering. By streamlining communication between disciplines, the cloud encourages the sharing of data vital to creating a comprehensive digital twin of the future machine. The multi-disciplinary model of the proposed machine connects mechanical, electrical and automation engineers to evaluate performance, energy use, output and other key indicators. Then a digital twin can simulate everything virtually, reducing the need for costly and time-consuming physical prototyping. The virtual process, based on simulation and the digital twin, offers benefits across the entire development and deployment of an advanced machine:

  • Design: Machine builders can use the cloud-based digital twin to simulate models and test thousands of features against thousands of requirements. That leads to finding errors earlier in the design process while pushing the creative boundaries of manufacturing.
  • Testing: The virtual analysis is enhanced through closed-loop testing, where artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms identify potential improvements—ensuring the production of the most flexible and optimized machines.
  • Manufacturing: When it is time to commission the machine for the factory floor, advanced machine engineering supports testing the PLC code in a virtual world running on the digital twin. The result is streamlined, stress-free physical commissioning. Virtual commissioning can ensure your PLC code is tested and evaluated before getting it on a physical machine. A machine crash in the digital world costs nothing.
  • Lifecycle: When customer requirements change, machine builders have an easily accessible process for updating machine programming logic or refreshing machine models using the digital twin and simulation.

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Modular Design Leads to Mass Customization

Advanced machine engineering provides the foundation for true modular design with cloud collaboration and the digital twin. This setup is a highly desirable approach where machine information and specifications are contained within modular “blocks.” These blocks can be reused across projects and customized to fit customer expectations. For example, engineers can open a block that contains a preexisting machine’s bill of material. They then can re-save the block as a new project and alter it to include updated parts or components that meet a customer’s specifications.

Using modular design, machine builders have a cost-effective path to scale for mass customization. It is now possible to produce highly differentiated machines quickly and cost-effectively from a shared set of modules.

As a result, machine builders can accelerate their bid times and respond to a larger number of inquiries and deliver a larger number of orders, expanding their business’s profitability. Modular design is also vital for rapid machine configuration. When customer requirements change, machine builders have an easily accessible process for updating machine programming logic or refreshing machine models. It is also possible to trace design iterations and understand why specific decisions must be made. The digital twin of machinery makes all this possible by offering a virtual mockup of a machine, where machine data can readily be referenced and updated.  

Delivering Complex Machines Successfully

Advanced machine engineering gives machine builders the powerful capabilities needed to survive and thrive in today’s demanding industrial landscape. Integrating all the engineering disciplines empowers collaboration across the design teams through real-time cloud tools.

The result is the comprehensive digital twin of the machine that supports sophisticated simulation to create optimized machines without the need for physical prototyping. In addition, this method creates an environment for true modular design, where machine builders can quickly and cost-effectively adapt to shifting market requirements. Altogether, advanced machine engineering enhances machine builders’ productivity, speed-to-market and quality, helping them win big in the market every time.

Rahul Garg is the vice president for Industrial Machinery & SMB Programs at Siemens, responsible for defining and delivering key strategic initiatives and solutions and global business development.

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