The digital twin improves plant design and operational performance


March 21, 2022

Although the converging worlds of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) have different interests and requirements, this opens the door to innovative Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) solutions – such as digital twins.

FDT Server enables the simulation of digital twin products as part of the life cycle.

A digital twin is a virtual copy of something as simple as a device or as complex as an entire system. The data, created by sensors, gives users structural and operational views of what is happening to the device or system in real time. This allows them to monitor, model and adjust the digital twin to see how the virtual changes would affect the original device or system before committing to the change in the real world.

Although the converging worlds of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) have different interests and requirements, this opens the door to innovative Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) solutions – such as digital twins. This technology revolutionizes a manufacturer’s ability to use integrated IT/OT data to design and use models that form the basis for improving overall efficiency, quality and agility.

Visualize your factory

Convergence of IT/OT data on a single platform supports visualization of the whole plant. This is how OT and IT decision makers will receive productivity status updates consistently and on time, enabling them to make more accurate business decisions.

Manufacturers looking for IT/OT convergence benefit from a secure, scalable and adaptable platform that provides reliable end-to-end integrated and configurable interoperability supporting agile cloud, edge, on-premises or enterprise-wide.

FDT’s strength in data visualization and analysis enables seamless integration of automation system assets (current and new installed solutions), control applications and state-of-the-art devices across the industry global industry, as well as expanded access to critical operational data. This strength extends to emerging technologies – like the digital twin – that support better decision-making, better understanding and visualization of data, more modern and consistent workforce training, and efficient standard operating procedures.

FDT’s Unified Environment (FDT3) enables versatile digital twins. Because a digital twin represents a real-world object, such as a device, it can be used for planning, simulation, commissioning, or object access. Often a digital twin serves one purpose, but many projects use a digital twin for multiple purposes, such as planning and simulation.

FDT brings together the worlds of IT and OT, as well as systems and devices. Since the FDT Server environment consists of two servers, there are operational benefits and economic (business) benefits for different device or process configurations and simulations. The digital twin boosts data analysis and operational insights. FDT’s strength has always been analytics – and now those analytics are even richer, with better device diagnostics and better performance.

For industrial companies looking for proven solutions that support the convergence of business information and plant operations technologies, the new unified FDT environment (also known as the FDT3 standard), with its FDT server and solution integrated OPC UA server module, enables IT/OT integration and provides a secure gateway to network/device data and health information. The standard provides authenticated OPC UA client/server access to plant application data, and its use of a publish-subscribe environment enables real-time data exchange.

FDT Device Type Manager™ (DTM) provides documentation for device types as well as specific device instances to extend support for other use cases. For example, it is possible to provide an [email protected] description for a device type to support detailed engineering documents or to link maintenance documents for a device instance to support management of the life cycle. The DTM can serve as a hub for all device information.

FDT3 provides an accepted standard for deploying and integrating a digital representation of a device across many platforms. It allows the integration of a DTM into a web server, allowing remote access to device-related services such as monitoring, diagnostics and parameterization. In addition, it is possible to integrate DTMs into an OPC server, which supports integration at the application level – for asset management or for ERP, for example. The OPC server can support an information model that conforms to the FDT OPC Unified Architecture (UA) information model.

Benefits of digital twin environments

Together, the FDT Server with OPC UA offers system vendors digital twins for simulation and virtualization of automation systems, I/O systems and processes.

The main reasons for introducing digital twin technology into a production system are to improve access to information related to the production process and to improve the flexibility of the production system. This applies to existing production systems as well as newly planned production systems.

For FDT, supporting access to device information isn’t new – it’s been a core competency for over 20 years. Originally the capability consisted mainly of a running representation of the device, but with FDT Unified Environment the focus has shifted from an embedded representation of the device to providing a representation of the device server-based. With the FDT environment, it is possible to have a server that provides a set of information and services related to the device. The server can then be used to support very different use cases related to the device.

A DTM provides packaged information about all supported device types. Today, this typically includes documentation as well as protocol support files. It would be easy to use the DTM to provide files for simulations or for virtual commissioning. If these files are provided via a link, the device vendor may retain and update these files without updating the DTM.

The business advantage for device vendors is that they only need to support one solution for multiple purposes. The DTM package can support traditional services and IoT use cases. The business advantage for an end user is that they can use well-established and mature technology as the basis for their access to information.

Improve design and performance

The digital twin improves lifecycle control and configuration, including improving plant design and operational performance, through semantic interoperability.

Currently, there are many ways to provide facility design assistance. Moreover, there is no common solution to transfer knowledge from the early phases of the production system life cycle (such as plant design) to the operation phase.

If the device data to support the plant design were annotated with semantic information, it would be easier for system planners and operators to understand the device data and the relationship between the planning data and the current device configuration. The FDT OPC UA information model allows access to this information from any user application.

Extended connectivity

Implementing the FDT/OPC UA model provides extensive connectivity of engineering, distributed control, asset management, and other systems as part of IIoT and applications in the modern connected world.

FDT is the only open, scalable, secure and interoperable architecture for the modern industrial enterprise. The technology provides a vendor-neutral software interface for asset integration and device intelligence access for end users with process, plant (discrete), and hybrid operations. In these diverse markets, with unique operational requirements, technology enables a common environment for using the most sophisticated features of smart devices.

This architecture enables everyone and everything – people, processes and technology – to work better together.

Commissioning and startup are two of the most crucial use cases for the digital twin, as people become less dependent on physical devices. The value of the digital twin lies in faster configuration and modernization of the lifecycle process in a simulated environment.

Imagine operating with all the precision but without the limitations of a physical device. The simulated device can understand the environment and returns values ​​to the user. The information model comes directly from the device.

FDT bridges the real world and the virtual world, enabling secure communication over any network and hierarchy of networks allowing modeling of any protocol or device. With the digital twin, it will be possible to switch applications and use DTMs to configure, simulate, verify behavior, make decisions and learn from history.

FDT’s expertise in control and confirmation enables digital pairing so that providers and users realize significant benefits.

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