The plant we built was a brand new plant configuration, designed and built entirely from scratch. Everything we did was based on our X-Pact® Process Guidance approach, a unified software and database infrastructure that integrates all digital products and applications with a standardized operator interface and feeds data to the SMS DataFactory. Our Digital Solutions Package was also part of the project scope and had to be tested in advance. As a result, there was a tremendous amount of testing to be done. The whole scenario practically screamed out for X-Pact® Plug & Work integration testing – our solution for delivering up to 30% faster ramp-up, very high product quality from the beginning and a ready-made stable production environment. In conjunction with a Digital Twin, we created a virtual process and production simulation, which enabled us to exhaustively test and pre-optimize the automation system as it would be commissioned – allowing our customer to start earning a return on their investment much faster.

Customer training with X-Pact® Plug & Work

Customer training is an essential component of the Plug & Work concept. In a simulation comparable to a flight simulator, customer teams learn to operate and control almost every aspect of production during testing so that they can hit the ground running once the plant goes online. Usually, training means that our customers will travel to integration test facilities for several weeks. In the case of this project, there was a challenge that nobody could have foreseen at the beginning of the project: the Covid pandemic made travel impossible.

So, if nobody was able to travel to the test site, there was only one way to test and train: bring the test field to our customer. True to the old adage of "Necessity is the mother of invention", we created an entirely new approach to conducting the testing and training with our customer: Streaming the entire simulation to the customer teams via a VPN connection from Germany, including virtualized control desks, local panels, the HMI system and the 3D simulation of the digital twin, enabling the customer to operate the plant from their location, with video-conference training executed by our team in Germany.

Main benefits for our customer

  • Commissioning time shortened by 30%
  • Significantly earlier return on investment
  • Virtual production with digital twin
  • Pre-optimization of processes
  • Pre-tested software before taking delivery
  • Customer teams 100% prepped for plant operation before commissioning

Taking the next step towards autonomous operation

This was a first for us, but it turned out to be a massive success for the customer and us and even became the basis for additional training orders from this customer. We see this newly created remote approach as so much more than just a stopgap measure. Not just for future testing and training scenarios where travel is not practical or possible, but as a solid basis for enhanced automation and digitalization solutions for entirely autonomous production offerings like X-Pact® Lights-Out.

The success of our remote solution opens up several opportunities for serving the customer with more trainings for operators and maintenance personell without having to send teams halfway around the world for extended periods of time – aside from more favorable cost-benefit scenarios, the reduced environmental footprint is also not inconsiderable. Additionally the sophisticated training methods of SMS group can be integrated into regular training routines, ultimately leading to higher skilled work force and inproved production security.

Digital twin technology presents a solution for many existing pain points such as reviews of existing automation software, testing of new software, simulating new assets or process changes without risk and their optimization in a virtual environment, the virtual integration of new plants/components into existing plants as a part of modernizations and upgrades.

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