Keeping Your Digital Twin Always Up to Date

Aucotec and Phoenix Contact joint forces and expertise to develop a solution for automatically maintaining digital twin up to date on every change

  • Keeping Your Digital Twin Always Up to Date
    Keeping Your Digital Twin Always Up to Date
  • Keeping Your Digital Twin Always Up to Date
    Keeping Your Digital Twin Always Up to Date

Present and future engineering has two fundamental keywords in its DNA: digitization and digital twin. These are the basis of Industry 4.0 applications, but in many areas they are still not put into practice. At the last Namur Annual General Meeting, Aucotec AG together with the University of Magdeburg showed how it can work in actual practice in the communication of the plant with its digital twin, its own documentation. IoT projects can be implemented with plant data kept up to date in this way. Requirements: an interdisciplinary data model and a universal language standard: OPC UA based on NOA.

Digitalization to deal with dated plants

According to a recent study from the German VDMA and the management consultancy PWC about market changes in the industrial plant manufacturing sector, the technology-oriented business models that dominates the market now in plant construction with around 60%, will only account for around 20% in 2025. On the other hand, digital, i.e. data-controlled services will triple their share to around 15% compared with today.

Extracting data from the plant is therefore essential to keep up with the progress and develop new business models based on services or improve all processes through predictive maintenance. Industry 4.0 is really the “oil” of our century, but the problem is that it has to deal with old plants dating back to the last century. Digitally old IoT data are available 24/7 in a central data model and the problem is how to manage, interpret, and keep up to date this data. Additionally, the risk with up to date documentation is that it can soon become out of data again, as a plant is subject to constant changes.

Aucotec, the developer of the platform Engineering Base (EB), worked on to find a solution to this issue in cooperation with the Institute for Automation and Communication (ifak) at Ottovon- Guericke University in Magdeburg. At the Namur Annual General Meeting in 2018, Aucotec
presented for the first time a solution that went a step forward: a user case where the plant itself “spoke” to the documentation and informed EB directly about the physical changes made by a service professional.

Automated updating of plant documentation

The use case was called “Automated updating of plant documentation” and illustrated how engineering benefits from the neutral OPC UA format (Open Platform Communications/ Unified Architecture) based on NOA. Prof. Dr. Christian Diedrich from ifak, together with Aucotec product manager Martin Imbusch, made a live demonstration to show how the physical replacement of a transmitter is directly reflected in the plant documentation. The practical example was based on the test facility of the Interessen-Gemeinschaft Regelwerke Technik (IGR) in the Industriepark Höchst.

Ifak, Aucotec AG and IGR had jointly developed the example for the presentation. “This is a dream come true for operators,” says the product manager. The plant automatically reports changes to its as-built status and the documentation always, i.e. 24/7, shows the latest status – without redlining, without paper, without manual transmissions. This makes maintenance and conversion work considerably easier and clearer. “The digital twin does not remain a snapshot. EB is the first system that can permanently maintain twin status,” stresses Imbusch.

Cooperation with Phoenix Contact

At SPS 2019, Aucotec focuses on the support of plant operators on their digitization path through the automated update of their digital twin on every change. No matter how old the plant is, Aucotec’s platform Engineering Base (EB) can map the plant and detect via OPC UA when a device is changed or replaced. This is possible thanks to the cooperation with Phoenix Contact that developed a new device called “Hart-IP Gateway” which is able to make older devices “speak” OPC UA, too. This solution, connecting to a top hat rail in the field distributor, ‘’translates’’ the usual Hart signals of the devices into OPC UA. So all field devices that were not previously OPC-UA-capable can easily communicate with their documentation in EB.

Aucotec and Phoenix Contact presented this solution together for the first time at the Namur Annual General Meeting at the beginning of November and will later officially introduce it to the public at SPS. Visitors at Aucotec stand, will be able to have a first-hand experience of how a replacement is reflected in the entire plant documentation instantly. EB’s object orientation, web capability and OPC UA understanding make this possible, as do the gateways, which save expensive remote I/Os or the replacement of functional devices just because they do not have an OPC UA interface.

Sara Ibrahim

Graduated in political sciences and international relations in Paris, Anis joined the team in early 2019. Editor for IEN Europe and the new digital magazine AI IEN, he is a new tech enthusiast. Also passionate about sports, music, cultures and languages. 

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