Virtual commissioning in the digital factory shortens the commissioning phase and speeds up the ramp-up. Contributed by Küttner Automation
Virtual commissioning enables the testing and verifying the functioning of automation systems and optimising controls and process steps before the “real” commissioning takes place in the metal industry. Various competed projects such as voestalpine steel divison in Austria have demonstrated that commissioning times can be markedly reduced by simulating the equipment and functions beforehand—in a digital factory.
In modernisation or rebuilding projects, every single day counts. Once a plant has been taken out of operation for a rebuilding measure, everything possible is done to bring it back on stream as fast and smoothly as possible. One is frequently presented with the situation that the time left for commissioning the electrical equipment is only very short, due to unforeseeable delays occurring during the installation of the mechanical equipment. Against this backdrop, the success of a revamping project largely depends on how quickly and reliably the hardware and control software can be tested and optimised.
The Digital Factory
In numerous projects, Küttner Automation— the company within the Küttner group specialised in automation systems—has made it possible to reduce commissioning times and accelerate ramp-ups by applying the approach of virtual commissioning.
The process is based on the creation of a testing environment in which all mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic and electrical components of the control systems are connected into a digital factory. This simulation scenario allows processes to be optimised and faults in the functional sequence to be identified and corrected prior to the installation on site. The result: all automation sequences have been tested and approved before the new plant goes live.
The control equipment is commissioned in a virtual environment at a very early stage of the project—in parallel with the manufacture and assembly of the machinery. This means no testing and fine-tuning of the control software under time pressure, as is very often the case when these activities take place during the real commissioning. Therefore the commissioning activities on site can concentrate on the signal and field level. Moreover, the virtual approach often results in a shorter ramp-up phase, as there will be fewer failures and plant standstills.
Friedhelm Bösche, head of software development at Küttner Automation, said that virtual commissioning is offered as an option for modernisation projects. “Simulating the preliminary commissioning involves some effort in the beginning. But this pays off later on in the form of major time savings. We know from a great number of projects that the time needed to commission the real systems can be cut by up to 75 percent when the software has been pre-tested in a virtual commissioning scenario.”
A Recent Example
The group recently modernised the automation of the iron ore blending unit at the sinter plant of voestalpine steel division in Austria, supplying the process automation that previously underwent the virtual commissioning.
During this phase the Austrian steelmaker gained full confidence about the reliability of the process technology. Plant operators of the voestalpine steel division were involved in the virtual testing at an early stage as a precondition of a very short commissioning phase later on. As a result the very tight time frame of only twenty hours for the on-site commissioning was aligned.