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Digital twins will speed development of CNC machine tools

16 September, 2020

The CNC (computer numerical control) specialist NUM has announced a digital twin technology that will allow machine tool manufacturers to cut their time-to-market dramatically, by using powerful simulation techniques.

Digital twins are virtual models that use simulation, real-time data acquisition and analysis, and machine learning techniques, to evaluate a machine’s dynamic performance before a physical prototype is built. The technology can also be used for customer presentations, virtual commissioning and operator training – all before the machine is built.

NUM is offering two versions of its digital twin technology, both designed for use with its open-architecture Flexium+ CNC platform. One version uses a naked controller and virtualisation software running on an industrial PC to simulate the twinned machine. The other uses the controller that will eventually be incorporated into the machine, linked via EtherCat to a PC running high-speed simulation software to represent the mechatronics of the twinned machine.

The virtual controller version includes an SDK (software development kit) for creating the software model of the machine. This model is a standalone PLC program using predefined components to simulate machine elements such as sensors, spindles, pneumatic cylinders and so on. It is loaded into the PLC that is built into the Flexium+ controller. The Flexium NCK (numerical control kernel) in the controller executes the NC programs and simulates the changing position values of the machine’s axes. The package includes the Codesys Depictor software tool, which produces 3D visualisations from the IEC 61131-3 code created by the simulation, helping users to understand the process.

The second version the digital twin technology supports real-time data acquisition and analysis. It is based on the ISG-Virtuous hardware simulation software produced by the German firm, Industrielle Steuerungstechnik. The Flexium+ controller that will be used in the machine is connected to a PC via an EtherCat network, and interacts with the simulation software in real-time.

NUM says that its digital twin technology will enable machine tool manufacturers to cut their time-to-market dramatically.

The PC acts as the twinned virtual machine – with all simulated components behaving like real components in terms of their interfaces, parameters and operating modes – to replicate accurately the structure and the dynamic performance of the real machine. The movements of the machine are displayed realistically on the PC, using 3D simulation software.

NUM says that its digital twin technology will provide machine tool manufacturers with a powerful and cost-effective means of cutting their developments costs and accelerating their time-to-market. It expects the virtual controller version to be especially useful during the early development stages of a project, before the CNC system has been finalised, while the real-time hardware simulation version will allow sequencing (PLC) and motion control (CNC) programs created during development to be transferred easily to the real machine, as soon as it becomes available.

The 3D simulation depicts the dynamic operation of the machine.

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