Importance of the digital twin in the engineering of machinery and equipment

Interview with
Timm Hauschke, Director Master Data Business at Eplan

Interview with Timm Hauschke, Director Master Data Business at Eplan. Having started as a consultant at Eplan in 1999, Hauschke later moved to Product Management in the Automated Engineering division and has been active as Head of “Master Data” since the end of 2018.

Seamless integration on the basis of open standards from the perspective of Eplan Looking at the digital creation of automation systems, how has this field developed over the years at Eplan?

T. Hauschke: In principle, its roots go back to when Eplan was founded in 1984 – to when the first attempts were made at drawing a circuit diagram without the use of ink. This was essentially the forerunner to the first digital twin. So, what we are actually doing is describing the digital representation of a machine or piece of equipment in the sense of electrotechnical automation. We can do this with the Eplan documentation, and herein lies the foundation for the strong development we have seen in this field in Eplan over the years. We have made the leap from abstract circuit diagrams to the physical world by digitally mapping the physical control cabinet in 3D format. We can thereby show how it should be ideally built in reality. The combination of information from the circuit diagram and the 3D model of the control cabinet provides the basis for the automated production of the control cabinet. The data can be transferred directly to machines for production – for example for Rittal. Cut-outs and bores can be controlled automatically; likewise, wire assembly, including length determination, can also be automated. 

If we take it one step further with respect to the operation of the equipment, the digital documents outlined above also play a very important role today. Rittal is offering its customers a digital circuit diagram pocket, the Rittal ePocket, whereby the customer uses a QR code to access the digital documentation of the equipment or the control cabinet directly via the Eplan Cloud. This enables efficient error analysis, while also minimising downtimes. How and at what point do you see the component manufacturer coming into play?

T. Hauschke: Everything depends on the device data – and this is the point where collaboration with HARTING begins: the demands on component manufacturers are considerably higher today than they used to be. All the information required for a device needs to be available digitally and uniformly so that our shared customer can process it intelligently in accordance with the value chain just discussed. In this way, the customer can reap the full benefits.

In the past, the focus was clearly on the physical component and care was taken to ensure compliance with technical specifications. Today, the digital twin of a product has at least the same degree of importance. In addition to the description of the physical representation, further digital representations must be defined: how can the component along with all its alphanumeric information be represented in the circuit diagram or later in the commercial process so that it can be configured or ordered?

The focus is always on the information required by the designer in order to be able to efficiently create documentation for the equipment.

With ECLASS as a neutral data semantics and classification system and our Eplan Data Standard, which describes the necessary information in engineering, we have come up with an efficient solution to the issues raised above and minimised the effort required to generate the data. We are looking at the digital twin on different levels: in this case, on the level of the control cabinet as a whole. So, you are a user of individual components with digital twins, but you also use these to create components with digital twins?

T. Hauschke: Correct. The digital device is the smallest unit and the designer puts together a system using our software – a system, a control cabinet, which is, in turn, also a digital representation. If we now turn our attention to a production line with five machines, for instance, this also results in a digital twin. This type of cascading is the purpose of the Asset Administration Shell. So a digital twin has many more use cases than simply creating a control cabinet or something similar – do you think it will also enable lifecycle services in the future?

T. Hauschke: Yes, absolutely. Mutual interaction is, of course, important here: how do I get data from production to be transferred back via the production twin? In other words, how can live data be recorded from the system for the purpose of analysis, etc.? The IDTA (International Digital Twin Association) has set itself the task of standardising the functional description of the digital twin with the Asset Administration Shell. How would you assess these standardization efforts?

T. Hauschke: For quite a while now, we have been working in the context of ECLASS (see box text) on creating a basis for this in accordance with the IDTA description for the digital twin. As such, we have a great interest in helping to shape these open standards and actively accompanying the process. I believe this is the ideal way to create reference applications and form part models so that the theoretical concept can be supplemented with practical experience. The future will show how far this can ultimately go. How companies implement this knowledge will play a decisive role. The Asset Administration Shell is a completely new information model. The description and documentation processes of this model differ vastly to the approach used over the last 50 years. Particularly as there are so many brownfield systems in existence, any transition will take time. For new systems, this is certainly an important step that has to be taken. Will the activities of ECLASS and the IDTA be coordinated in the future?

T. Hauschke: ECLASS and the IDTA are united in partnership.  We are making good progress in that the ECLASS information model is a fundamental component of the Asset Administration Shell with regard to how devices should be classified and described. ECLASS has adapted the information model accordingly and added the so-called Asset Application Class in what can only be described as a perfect interplay. This does not have a proprietary format, because ECLASS as a standard is IEC-compliant and machine-readable. If I didn't have this basis for machine-to-machine communication, even the best information system wouldn't help me. There is close coordination with the IDTA in this direction. For example, the digital type plate should be mentioned here, which is being semantically closely coordinated on both sides. How do you view the aspect of the active Asset Administration Shell from the perspective of ECLASS?

T. Hauschke: In my opinion, there is still a lot of discussion to be had here, as there are currently many different approaches to live data. We are currently observing a high level of dynamics here. On the ECLASS side, I can say that everything we map today will be used 1:1 in the direction of the digital twin. We are very well positioned to anchor this information in the classification system and in semantics so that the information can be transferred and utilised.