Identifying problems before they occur

KEB researches the “digital twin”

Virtually presenting products and processes before they are implemented in reality: What may sound like science fiction is the core of the so-called “digital twin”. KEB Automation has dedicated itself to precisely this concept in an innovation project. Improved commissioning and maintenance options for energy optimisation were the goal.  

The digital twin enables the digital modelling of machines, plants and components, for example. This virtual copy can be used to simulate possible scenarios or requirements in advance. The “Technical Infrastructure for Digital Twins” (short in german: TeDZ) project of the cluster “IT’S OWL” has taken on this forward-looking technology.

Optimising the energy performance of machines

The concrete goal of the project was to develop and demonstrate a technical infrastructure for digital twins. This was developed based on the use cases of the project partners. In addition, the infrastructure is compatible with the asset administration shell (ASS) of the Industrie 4.0 platform and the Industrial Digital Twin Association (IDTA), which were founded in 2021.

In addition to the pilot project “AssetLife”, TeDZ also included the topic “Digital Energy Twin”, in which KEB had a significant role. The project investigated which facets of a digital twin could help to optimise the energetic behaviour of components, machines or plants over the entire product life cycle.

Focus on commissioning and predictive maintenance 

Two use cases were the focus of KEB's research work within the project. 

1. Virtual commissioning: The aim of this use case was to detect and eliminate errors in the automation system using simulations as well as in the development and validation of the system's PLC code. Real or virtual PLCs are connected to the simulation models of the machine or system for this purpose, which simulatively map the behaviour of the planned machine or system. Especially when it comes to the correct mapping of energy flows, simulation models with a high level of detail are necessary. Therefore, methods were developed to create simulation models of KEB frequency inverters on the basis of the original firmware and to integrate them comprehensively into various simulation tools.

2. Predictive maintenance: Increasing the availability of systems is the core of this use case. This is to be achieved by continuously evaluating condition data by using the digital twin. A concept was developed to identify critical subcomponents and their causes of failure. Sensor and state variables of the KEB units, which could serve as indicators for deviations or input variables for lifetime models, were determined. A communication infrastructure was also defined to transport data from KEB components to a cloud-based platform such as KEB NOA. There, they are monitored with lifetime models or algorithms that detect irregularities.

Creating added value with project partners

Overall, a great deal of added value was achieved in the TeDZ research project. For example, an exchange format for simulation models was developed, which is based on the ASS standard and will enable cross-manufacturer and cross-tool simulation in the future. In addition, valuable insights were gained into areas in which the ASS of the Industrie 4.0 platform can be used. “The cooperation with the project partners was particularly exciting, which, among other things, is what makes a collaborative research project so appealing,” summarises Dominik Follmann, project manager and head of electronics development at KEB. “Despite the effects of the Corona pandemic, we overcame various challenges with a lot of discipline and dedication, and during this time, for example, we helped to design the SmartWarehouse - the physical demonstrator in the SmartFactoryOWL – and supplemented it with KEB products.”

Learn more about how predictive maintenance and virtual commissioning work


Authors: David Kater / Tim Schöllmann