Making the Most of your Machine: Using Virtual Commissioning to Reduce Cycle Times without Hardware Upgrades - Maplesoft

User Case Study:
Making the Most of your Machine: Using Virtual Commissioning to Reduce Cycle Times without Hardware Upgrades

To meet the performance requirements for a new injection molding machine, engineers at Niigon Machines Ltd were faced with cost-prohibitive upgrade options. The machine, which was already operating at the end customer’s site, needed to achieve a lower cycle time. Niigon’s traditional approaches would require a major, costly upgrade to the mechanical system, and require a significant amount of machine downtime for installation.

To avoid excessive hardware costs and machine downtime, Niigon partnered with Maplesoft to adopt a virtual commissioning approach. For reducing their machine cycle time Maplesoft engineers created a dynamic model of the machine that could serve as a powerful test platform for optimizing their machine control code. By using a digital twin of the machine, the controls team was able to develop, refine and test an optimized solution. They were able to stay within the existing requirements without incurring additional costs or machine downtime.

The injection moulding machine now meets all of their customer’s requirements and specifications, with over 25% increased throughput on the exact same hardware. Virtual commissioning provided Niigon with a new way to achieve the best performance on their existing hardware, at a fraction of the cost for a mechanical redesign. Engineers at Niigon are now implementing virtual commissioning techniques to create a new generation of machines that achieve faster, more predictable performance with a significantly shorter commissioning time.

In the automation business, speed and efficiency are everything. Engineers are constantly looking for new techniques to increase production speed, without sacrificing safety or quality. To improve machine performance, many engineers look to new motors, hydraulics, and other components that can withstand more demanding requirements. With the advent of virtual commissioning, engineers at Niigon Machines Ltd are making their current machines perform faster, safer, and more efficiently, all by using simulation-based design principles to optimize their products.

As a provider of modern injection moulding machines, Niigon delivers modular, customizable machines to meet the demands of an extremely competitive market. They recently delivered a new machine that ran two injection units in parallel, taking advantage of both hydraulic and electric actuation to press the molds together (Figure 1). Once delivered, their end customer required a faster throughput than was currently achievable for the machine.

Figure 1: A simplified model of Niigon's new injection molding machine, which uses two injection molding units running in parallel.

In its current configuration, the machine speed was limited by unwanted oscillations that would appear at higher production speeds, making it necessary to run the machine slower than the customer’s specification. These oscillations, acting on the center platen, would appear during the portion of the machine cycle when these platens were closing together. Engineers at Niigon explored a variety of options to improve their machine’s configuration. With current engineering techniques, a solution would require replacement of their hydraulic components with electric counterparts, which came at the cost of hardware, hundreds of engineering hours, and significant losses due to machine downtime.

A New Approach: Virtual Commissioning

Faced with high costs and tight deadlines, Niigon decided to consider a new approach to machine optimization. They partnered with Maplesoft, a leading provider of simulation and virtual commissioning solutions, to explore an optimization of their control strategies with simulation-based techniques. If successful, Niigon could solve their problem by precisely optimizing their controllers to minimize the unwanted oscillations – no new hardware required.

 To get results as fast as possible, Niigon enlisted the services of Maplesoft Engineering Solutions to help develop and implement a simulation-based upgrade to their machine. Experts at Maplesoft first developed a validated machine model, investigated the underlying causes of oscillations, and then used the simulation model as a virtual test platform for optimizing the machine controllers. By doing their control optimization virtually, Niigon would be able to develop, test, and optimize multiple strategies without taking the physical machine offline, or risking machine damage during testing. Once a suitable strategy was developed, the physical machine was updated remotely with the new software.

Developing the Model

To create the simulation model – also known as a digital twin – Niigon provided Maplesoft with a variety of operational data from their machine, including velocity, position, and torque data from different components. Using MapleSim (Figure 2), the modeling and simulation tool from Maplesoft, a dynamic model was created to replicate the operation of the physical machine. To achieve the required fidelity, the model included key components from the physical machine, including hydraulic and mechanical systems, modeled in the same multidomain environment within MapleSim.

Figure 2: An example of the MapleSim workspace, showing the model topology for part of the injection molding machine.

By comparing the physical machine data with the model results, engineers at Maplesoft created a simulation model that accurately replicated the oscillations seen on the physical machine. They could now use this model to investigate the cause for oscillations, and simulate a variety of strategies that could eliminate them from operation.

Optimizing the Control Code

Niigon was now ready to use their simulation model to develop new, optimized control code for the machine. As a B&R Industrial Automation customer, Niigon used Automation Studio for control design, which can easily import MapleSim models for virtual commissioning. The MapleSim model was connected to Automation Studio using the B&R MapleSim Connector, which gave Niigon the ability to simulate the impacts of their control code on a real-time, simulation-based model (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Example of the connection between MapleSim (right) and the control system development software (left), consisting of B&R Automation Studio and the human-machine interface (HMI) software itself. Engineers at Niigon used the simulation model from MapleSim as the virtual test platform for realtime testing within Automation Studio, and used the resulting control code for deployment to their HMI system.

By testing against a virtual machine, Niigon could run countless iterations of control strategies offsite, and without the physical machine.  At the click of a mouse, they could visualize their machine’s response to different control strategies, both in the form of specific sensor data and realtime 3-D visualizations of their machine. After optimizing their control strategies virtually, they were ready for deployment on the physical machine.

Bringing it All Together: Updating the Machine

Figure 4: The physical injection molding machine, developed by Niigon.

Armed with the promising results from their model-based optimizations, engineers from Niigon and Maplesoft were ready to implement their solution on the physical machine (Figure 4). In a typical commissioning situation, engineers might take weeks or months to settle on a suitable controller configuration. However, because Niigon performed their testing on the virtual machine, they required less than two days of machine downtime to implement optimizations to their machine operation.

After implementing two major optimization strategies, Niigon machines successfully reduced the machine cycle time by over 25% (Figure 5), and effectively eliminated the oscillation issues during production.  “We initially thought this was impossible to do with software,” noted Billy Jiang, a controls designer for this project. “It was unbelievable when we first got these results.”

Figure 5: By optimizing the machine control code, engineers noticed a significant reduction in oscillations when comparing the hydraulic system without an optimized controller (green) and with the new control strategy (red).

By using virtual commissioning as an automation technology, Niigon was able to deliver a machine that exceeded their customer’s performance requirements, with less machine downtime and less than 25% of the cost of hardware-based solutions. Since optimizing the injection molding machine, the end customer has added a second employee on their line to keep up with the increased production.

The Future of Virtual Commissioning at Niigon

“For me, it’s a total no-brainer. You will never get the best out of your mechanical system without simulation.”

Marc Ricke

Controls Engineering & IT Manager, Niigon Machines Ltd.

In a matter of months, machine simulation went from a hardly-considered option to an important tool for future engineering developments at Niigon. Marc Ricke, a controls engineer at Niigon, is convinced by the added performance that simulation can bring to their entire product line. “For me, it’s a total no-brainer. You will never get the best out of your mechanical system without simulation.”

As they continue to implement virtual commissioning processes at Niigon, Marc will continue to use Maplesoft Engineering Solutions for consulting, training, and software. “The quality of service we got cannot be understated. First and foremost, they were always concerned with helping us address and solve our issues as quickly as possible.”

What’s next for Niigon?  While they can’t say exactly what is under development, Marc is confident that simulation will provide them with a powerful, competitive edge in their future products. In the future, he believes that customers will start to demand the benefits offered by simulation-based machine development.

“In the beginning, CAD modeling was seen as unnecessary, and some people believed they were fine without it. These days, it wouldn’t even be a discussion to debate the necessity of CAD modeling. In 2 years, our hope is that people here will look at simulation the same way.”

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