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Magazine7 Min

Digital commissioning of automation systems with X-Pact® Plug & Work integration test

Every time we handle a project, our goal is to develop a common perspective and understanding of the project together with the customer. The primary focus here is on aspects such as quality, time, costs and safety. Our solution for the automation part of a project is the Plug & Work process, which was developed by SMS group for the digital commissioning of automation systems. With every SMS group project - including both new plants and revamps - the new automation system for the customer's specific plant is set up, tested, and pre-optimized in our international SMS group test fields long before the plant is erected on site.

Time is money

Every second counts when it comes to plant availability. With the X-Pact® Plug & Work Integration Test, our customers have the advantage of saving precious time. Compared to the conventional procedure, the time required for commissioning can be reduced by up to 30 percent with Plug & Work.

In order to perform the integration test, we install the entire automation system for the customer-specific plant in our test fields and connect it to the plant and production simulation. This includes a simulation of the kinematic and dynamic behavior of all plant elements by means of mathematical-physical, real-time models, takes into account the special technological features of the plant, and is rounded off by a realistic 3D-visualization. The digital twin of the integrated plant, created in parallel to the engineering, can already be brought to life for testing purposes during the Plug & Work test by enriching it with the simulation data. The digital twin is subsequently further enriched with online data from the real plant in order to increase its value. In this way, we save valuable time, which means our customer saves money.

Quality and safety make the difference

We employ X-Pact® Plug & Work not only for cold commissioning projects but also for virtual hot commissioning. The procedure for checking the drive interfaces, measuring systems, or the interfaces with all other packages is the same as that used on site. Once the individual plant modules have been tested, these are combined to create an integrated system, and the interaction between them is checked. The virtual production tests are then carried out based on the production schedule for the customer's plant.  The production reports and IBA-PDA data generated in this way with Plug & Work are evaluated jointly with SMS group's technology and safety experts before the plant is delivered.

With over 150 years of expertise in plant construction and process engineering, we know exactly how processes behave and what settings need to be made to achieve certain product properties. This is how high levels of safety and quality are guaranteed right from the start, meaning production can be started almost straight away, and smooth operation of the plant and a rapid return on investment can be achieved. Our customers' satisfaction speaks for itself.

Plug & Work gave us the chance to test all of the automation systems together – offline. That way, when everything got here, it just worked

Yet what other benefits and applications does Plug & Work offer?

The possibilities are manifold but they have one thing in common – the competitive edge they give customers. Every customer project at SMS group enjoys the following benefits, which are important for getting equipment quickly on stream and thus achieving a rapid return on investment:

  • Testing the original equipment
  • Virtual production scenarios
  • Pre-optimizing the customer's process
  • Training the operating and maintenance personnel

We attach a great deal of importance to training our customer's employees under realistic conditions in our close partnership with the customers themselves. During training, for example, employees have the opportunity of contributing their own ideas and feedback. This ensures the customer's team is fully integrated into the commissioning process, so this practice-oriented approach enables them to actively assist with getting the plant on stream quickly. The operating and maintenance personnel are trained on the original control pulpits using the digital twin. Individual sessions involving one-to-one familiarization with the plant functions are conducted, and training on how to handle operational situations is carried out in virtual production mode.

Peter Waldhoff, Project Manager at SMS group, explains why customer training is so important: "Our objectives are to gain trust, to ensure that the maintenance and operating personnel identify with the project and the plant, and to achieve high levels of acceptance and teamwork. We see through the same lens as our customers. From the kick-off meeting at the latest, we share a common position and understanding not only of quality, time, costs, and safety, but also of the social competence of the customer's team, because this is just as important for the success of the project. The integration test is the time for interaction between commissioning engineers, maintenance personnel, and operators. In my experience as a project manager, it is not necessary to have the best players, but to bring together the best team."

Each plant simulation is unique and precisely tailored to the customer's plant. For the operator in the test field it feels like working on the actual plant, because all operating modes and processes are simulated in real time and visualized accordingly.

Furthermore, the concept has been enhanced to meet the requirements of the new industrial era, so that the digital commissioning of the plant and the training sessions can also be successfully completed virtually. During the pandemic, in particular, SMS group was required to expand its remote activities during project handling in order to protect the health of its customers and staff.

Virtual customer training

The motto here is simple: If the customer can't come to the test field, the test field goes to the customer! Training usually takes place during the "face to face" integration test. Due to the travel restrictions relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, we developed an alternative training method – remote-supported operator training in the integration test field.

Our solution is to transmit the entire simulation to the customer and to allow him access to the control units, including the virtualized control stations and local panels as well as the HMI system. The training takes place completely virtually. The customer operates the plant from his office. Trainers from SMS are on hand in a parallel video conference to answer any questions.

Plug & Work SDI Integration test - Virtual customer training CSPNEXUS at SDI
Remote control station

Remote support during and after commissioning

With X-Pact® Service we have a perfect infrastructure for remote support during and after commissioning. As a general rule, we supply the technical option of remote support with every new plant. We use AR glasses at the equipment via a secure X-Pact® Service Portal connection that allows us to interact directly with the customer's experts via chat, audio, video or whiteboard functions.  The tool is used during engineering, the X-Pact® Plug & Work integration test, and commissioning activities. What's more, a mobile version of the X-Pact® Service Portal has now been created that enables the customer's staff to initiate a service call directly from their smartphone. Therefore, within the global network of SMS group, both software experts and technologists from the development departments are available to answer any questions their customers may have. In this way, any unclear issues can be resolved straight away. This reduces overall costs and boosts the plant's performance.

No time-consuming troubleshooting, but rather proper expert support and well-functioning just-in-time partnerships.

X-Pact® Service Portal – SMS group's platform for the expert diagnosis of your automation systems

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