Drives and Controls Magazine

Virtual cells shorten project time

01 June, 2002

Virtual cells shorten project time

A software package that allows manufacturing cells and processes to be designed, simulated and optimised on a computer before any hardware is assembled, could slash project start-up times and costs, according its co-developers, Siemens and an Israeli firm, Tecnomatix Technologies.

The eM-PLC package provides a "digital engineering environment" in which electrical and mechanical design engineers can work simultaneously on a project, clearing up any misunderstandings or erroneous data, before assembling any hardware.

As well as providing a virtual 3D design environment, the package generates programs for Siemens` Simatic S7 PC-based controllers directly from the mechanical data. When devices such as actuators and sensors have been added, the cell can undergo a "virtual start-up" by loading the control program into a "virtual controller".

This allows the engineers to perform tasks that have previously been possible only after a system has been built. For example, it can check automatic and manual operation, interlocks, potential collisions and emergency stop functions.

As well as reducing project times, Siemens and Tecnomatix claim that their technology will improved product quality. Several pilot projects have already been completed successfully.