Evolution of Virtual Commissioning – Maplesoft Engineering Solutions

Evolution of Virtual Commissioning

Since its inception, the intention of virtual commissioning has been to help solve problems that arise when manufacturing systems are brought together for integration with a programmable logic controller (PLC). The benefit of using virtual models is clear; one can spot costly integration issues before building the physical system. To be successful, however, the virtual plant model must be an accurate representation of the system in question. While these kinds of models previously had some prominence in the aerospace and automotive industry, their implementation was lacking in the automation market. Companies needed plant models that could integrate with their PLC design methods – something unavailable by the early standards of plant modeling.

As early as 1999, researchers were trying to define virtual commissioning strategies that could realize these expected benefits [1]. They described a technique called "soft-commissioning" that could pair simulation tools with hardware PLCs, and help debug a portion of the expected behavior of the physical system. Although the technology was lacking, researchers could still demonstrate success. Since that time, general control development has been organized into four categories [1]:

  • Traditional Commissioning involves testing the physical system (plant) against the hardware controllers without the assistance of virtual modeling techniques.
  • Soft Commissioning (or Hardware-in-the-Loop (HIL) testing), employs a virtual plant model that is used to test the hardware controllers.
  • Reality-in-the-Loop, alternatively, tests simulated hardware controllers against a constructed, physical system.
  • Virtual Commissioning is the process of testing that uses both a virtual plant model and a virtual control system for simulation.

 Virtual Commissioning techniques save up to 75% of the time required for traditional commissioning 2 

Each of these four strategies requires different technologies to be successful. As far back as 2006, researchers showed that virtual commissioning stood to save up to 75% of the time required for traditional commissioning [2]. By 2010, researchers were still working on improved ways to facilitate a user-friendly approach to the virtual commissioning process [3]. They described the major challenges as, 1) the easy creation of sufficient plant models, and 2) the ability for these plant models to work in tandem with PLC development software.

Despite these challenges, technologies are now available that make virtual commissioning implementation possible for most automation companies. Today, new technologies and software integrations are significantly reducing the historical barriers associated with virtual commissioning.

Next: Technologies for Virtual Commissioning


[1] Auinger, F., Vorderwinkler, M. and Buchtela, G. 1999. “Interface driven domain-independent modeling architecture for ‘soft-commissioning’ and ‘reality in the loop’”, Proceedings of the 1999 Winter Simulation Conference, Phoenix, AZ, USA, 1, pp. 798-805.

[2] Zäh, M. F., Wünsch, G., Hensel, T. and Lindworsky, A., 2006. Nutzen der virtuellen Inbetriebnahme: Ein experiment - Use of virtual commissioning: An experiment, ZWF Zeitschrift fuer Wirtschaftlichen Fabrikbetrieb, 101, 10, pp. 595-599

[3] Hoffmann, Peter & Schumann, Reimar & Maksoud, Talal & Premier, Giuliano. (2010). Virtual Commissioning Of Manufacturing Systems - A Review And New Approaches For Simplification. Proceedings - 24th European Conference on Modelling and Simulation, ECMS 2010. 175-181. 10.7148/2010-0175-0181.

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