Please choose country and language

MapleSim is an advanced modeling tool from Maplesoft that computes the physical forces experienced by complex mechanical systems. Partnership with B&R now makes it easier than ever to incorporate these models in B&R's Automation Studio engineering platform and on the machine itself as a digital twin. Chad Schmitke from Maplesoft and Kurt Zehetleitner from B&R explain the immediate payoff for machine builders as well as the long-term implications of this exciting technology.

Kurt Zehetleitner, B&R's head of development for simulation and digital twin technology (left) and Chad Schmitke, senior director of product development at Maplesoft (middle) discuss how their companies' partnership will help shape the future of machine development.

We're hearing a lot about simulation and digital twins these days. What's behind all the hype?

Chad Schmitke:

The excitement is understandable. These technologies address some of the biggest challenges machine builders are facing, and they will bring lasting changes to how machines are engineered. With an increasing share of intelligence in what used to be primarily mechanical systems, control software is becoming more critical to machine performance. And as machines grow more complex and adaptive, you need more sophisticated methods of testing and evaluation.

And that's where simulation comes into play?

Schmitke:

Exactly. You don't want to go through all the expense of creating a physical prototype and then just hope for the best. If you can base your hardware sizing and software testing on a realistic simulation, and even perform virtual commissioning on a digital twin, you can have confidence from an early stage that your machine is going to do what you've designed it to do.

So, the main impact will be on design and development?

Schmitke:

Well, it will certainly start there – but beyond that we can see the next phase starting already. People will use the models they have created to put value-added features into the product. They'll discover new ways to use real-time data from the machine for things like diagnostics, predictive maintenance and advanced control.

Do these topics come up a lot in your conversations with customers?

Schmitke:

There are a lot of big ideas being tossed around about where the technology is going. But what I've heard from customers – especially the SMEs – is that they aren't quite sure where to start at a practical level. What they want to know is how to get started on that journey – what are the first steps that will let them start seeing returns right away.

And how do B&R and Maplesoft address those concerns?

Kurt Zehetleitner:

When it comes time to create the software for their machines, many of our customers – again, particularly the SMEs – are used to jumping right into the programming. The preliminary step of modeling the system is something new, and MapleSim is a really approachable way to get started with that. Through our partnership, we've created a package, B&R MapleSim Connector, that streamlines the workflow between the tools and helps our customers navigate this new territory in a way that brings real results very quickly.

Schmitke:

Maplesoft's heritage is in engineering computation – simplifying symbolics and building tight sets of equations. So we're able to generate extremely compact code, and our cooperation with B&R means that can now be applied in the engineering system for hardware-in-the-loop and software-in-the-loop simulation. So it's a really good match in terms of B&R's knowledge of the hardware and what their customers are doing and our expertise in how to model those systems.

Can you tell us a bit more about the B&R MapleSim Connector?

Zehetleitner:

The MapleSim Connector package contains MapleSim, as well as a B&R app for MapleSim for automated export of the model and CAD data to Automation Studio. There is also an export function for our SERVOsoft sizing tool. So it's a bundle that makes the workflow between all of these tools as streamlined and helpful for our customers as possible. The basic idea is that the model data is automatically reused for different purposes throughout the development process. This ensures, for example, that the most up-to-date CAD data is used for both hardware sizing and software development. MapleSim Connector is currently available upon request, and in the future will be available for download from the B&R website. Customers who are struggling with software development will see that with MapleSim and Automation Studio, they have a really approachable solution with a straightforward workflow that enables the different engineering disciplines to work together seamlessly.

So, it's a good way for machine builders to get started with digital twin technology?

Schmitke:

That's right. Bringing a model of your system into a powerful engineering tool like Automation Studio opens up some very exciting possibilities. You can test your controller in real time with no risk, and then put it right onto the machine. That's the piece of the process that's going to disrupt and transform the traditional approaches to machine software. In the past, you put in the effort to create a model and you could maybe size a motor with it, but that's where it ended. But now there's this gateway to so many other possibilites. You can develop with confidence because you can see with your own eyes that it's going to work. You can commission with ease, because you've already gone through it virtually. And you can perform with excellence, because you've had room to play around in the conceptual phase, and you have new ways to utilize feedback from the machine.

Could you describe the streamlined workflow between MapleSim and Automation Studio?

Zehetleitner:

The developer starts by importing their existing CAD data into MapleSim to create a model without having to deal with any kinematic equations. From there it's just a few clicks to create the C code and import it into Automation Studio where it can run in a simulation environment or on the actual PLC hardware, almost like any other function block. Since the CAD data is also imported, the developer can view a 3D representation in B&R's Scene Viewer. This digital twin shows them at a glance whether everything is performing correctly. And, as the mechanical design inevitably changes over the course of the project, they can keep this model up to date to avoid any unpleasant surprises when they go to run the software on the actual machine.

How will machine builders take advantage of all these new possibilities?

Zehetleitner:

As machines get more dynamic and adaptive, the increasing complexity and variability make it difficult for engineers to rely on their gut instinct to tell them which components are going to perform. So sizing and virtual commissioning will be very important applications. With our ACOPOStrak transport system, for instance, having a digital twin makes it easy to figure out the exact number of shuttles that will maximize productivity.

Schmitke:

It will start there and then move on to things like predictive maintenance, advanced control and tuning. When the torques you're drawing don't match what your model predicts, you know something might be going wrong with a given mechanism, for example. Also, you can exploire what-if scenarios. You can look at given set of parameters and ask: "What's the fastest cycle I can achieve on this motion profile and still be within the torque limits of my motors?" From there it's up to the imagination: How does it fit into the sales process, perhaps? The future is wide open.

Speaking of the future, what else can we expect to come out of this partnership?

Schmitke:

What we hope to see is that customers are encouraged to get started with this exciting topic. With easy access to a tool that they know will work, and where they can rely on expert support from both Maplesoft and B&R. From there, it will be a matter of listening to the feedback and prioritzing what features to pursue first. Overall, the driving question will remain: "How can we make it easier for our customers to use the information from their model to enhance their controls and overall system with added value?"

Please choose country and language

B&R Logo