Daniel, we hear a lot about the digital enterprise today. What is the Siemens position here as you obviously offer hardware, software and a communications platform?
If you visited our booth last year, you’ll notice that it was primarily hardware based—the CNC controls being a bigger contributor. Today, if you visit our booth you will notice we have many more elements from Siemens hardware, software and PLCs. We have a couple of new products we’re showing and also an emphasis on additive manufacturing and certainly machine connectivity.
Specifically, how do machine builders and supply chain players move into digitization today if they haven’t done so already?
We have to first make the case of differentiating between the machine builder and the machine user. A common mistake is to mix them all up in the same group. The tools you will use to digitize as a machine builder are slightly different than what the an end-user will use. For example, if I’m a machine tool builder and I want to create or use all the digitalization possibilities, I’m going to use the normal tools like CAD and CAE. And once I have the design, that’s when things will start going into virtual commissioning and creating a Digital Twin of that machine. And that will allow us to also create a Digital Twin of the physics. I will have to take into account what kind of materials there are, the shapes and so on and so forth, to try to mimic or create a model of that machine as it will move in the real world. And then from there, I’ll use other tools like a virtual PLC CPU or virtual numerical controller CPU. And plug it into that virtual twin and start programming that machine as I would a real machine.
There are many advances to this approach. One of them is that you need to do your CAD design and all that anyway. If you’re really optimizing your designs, then you will use other tools like simulation tools and so on and so forth. But what really gets you going faster is the use of a virtual numerical controller or virtual PLC CPU so you can start programming that machine ahead of time. And the ultimate goal is that once you’re done with all of your digital tests, transferring the information from the digital twin onto the real machine will get you pretty much there (you still have to do some debugging). So, one advantage of that is that programming the PLC, for example, is done with the same tool or, what we call TIA portal. TIA portal is a suite of all the software tools you need to integrate that machine, whether it’s a CNC or a PLC. If you are a controls engineer and you’re accustomed to being given a machine that’s already built and wired and then you start coding, well, it’s the same thing: You get an original machine that’s already built and virtually wired and you’re going to do the same process, pretty much.
Now, for end-users, this is kind of a new thing that also brings in a lot of value in the sense that you can do simulations of your process and you can do simulations of your plant. You can optimize even your tool paths, perhaps, in the case of a CNC, for example. You can do all kinds of testing before even cutting the first part. That way, you don’t have to waste materials and time. And machine tools are expensive. That’s how you make your money. So, you don’t want to tie up one machine while checking and seeing if you can get three seconds faster by doing all kinds of tests. You can tie up your virtual machine while the real one is making money.
That gives new meaning to the phrase “measure twice and cut once,” right?
Daniel, please tell us more about your TIA, portal and how it helps companies in their product strategies.
It is the same concept: If you’re a machine tool builder, the TIA portal gives you everything you need to integrate a machine in one place. For example, if I have a brand-new machine design, as you open up a new project in TIA, you have to start by looking at the hardware configuration and basically open up a whole catalog of items: the PLC CPU, inputs, outputs, all the modules you may need to integrate that machine — and you bring them in. You pull them into your project. This gives you the ability to build up a virtual set of hardware. And you start programming that virtual set of hardware and from there, you transfer over to the real machine. If you’re using any HMI, human machine interface, then you also have a catalog of different screens you can use. There are more items in there such as different IO modules, different ways of communicating. You have modules for distributed IO, so you can have machines that have inputs and outputs that are all over the place, depending upon the machine design and what your needs may be. Typically, when that machine is sold, somebody will have to keep it up and maintain it. The TIA portal is the tool that you will be using as well — it’s heavily graphical. In the past, Siemens was known because of our heavy use of the Statement List, that’s a particular programming language. The statement list was really good in the sense that it allows you to make a process faster. But it was really cryptic. So, if you’re not really initiated in that language, it was kind of hard. The TIA portal is much more user-friendly and allows the user to program in Ladder Diagram without a penalty in performance.
So, again, if you’re a machine tool builder, the TIA portal brings all the tools you need to program and integrate the automation hardware in one place. If you’re an end-user, of machines, you have all the tools you need in one place to take care of that machine you bought to make money for you.
Let’s talk about the Digital Twin. Can you detail its importance to the aerospace and defense sectors?
Certainly. The Digital Twin basically is a copy of the real machine, and you want it to be as close as possible to the real thing, right? So, you have several levels of Digital Twins. Typically, we talk about virtual commissioning. Virtual commissioning is the idea of being able to start up a system in a virtual environment using a Digital Twin. Of course, a twin is a twin, right? Built the same, it has the same face and so on and so forth. Same characteristics, it’s just not breathing.
Well, it only breathes 1s and 0s. The whole point being then that you have a model that is as close as possible to reality and in a platform that allows you to basically make “what if?” scenarios. For example, we have plant-wide simulations. In our plant simulations, we allow you to put together machines in a particular floor plan and then you can say, “Okay, if my flow is gonna go this way, hmm, what if I change the machine from here to there? Will it be better? Will it be worse? What about the ergonomics? Things like that. Then you have process simulation, which allows you to see the behavior of a particular machine or cell. You can then program, reprogram, move things around, break it if you need to, in a virtual environment before you break something for real, right?
What’s on the horizon for Siemens as you seek to serve your customers in this market more effectively?
The digital industries division of Siemens brings motion control, factory automation and industrial software under one umbrella. These three pillars make up the digital enterprise, where all the elements in the production chain are linked together by a digital thread. We also use what we sell. Siemens is a big manufacturer — from power plants to trains to electronics. Everything we sell, we use ourselves.