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Building the Digital Manufacturing World

Software-based design through production, the “digital twin,” revolutionizes the real thing.


“Digitalization changes everything.” With these words, Raj Batra, president of Siemens USA’s Digital Factory Division, opened a recent press conference announcing what the company is calling a completely integrated end-to-end “digital ecosystem” that connects product design through simulated production, with the potential for breakthrough productivity gains in the real manufacturing world.

Ray Chalmers Building the Digital Manufacturing World

Research says the number of connected devices will approach a trillion by 2030. Somewhat surprisingly, the bulk of these connected devices will be in the manufacturing enterprise. Within this framework, the most important driver remains improving time to market, Batra says. Creating a digital twin of the entire value chain – modeling and simulating product design, production planning, production engineering, production execution on digital machine tools and related services, will create a common data backbone that will go a long way toward eliminating mistakes, redundancies and trial-and-error in all these areas when products are actually produced.


MindSphere is Siemens’ cloud-based ecosystem for digitally viewing, engineering and commissioning production lines
MindSphere is Siemens’ cloud-based ecosystem for digitally viewing, engineering and commissioning production lines


This is not just talk. Siemens, a global technology powerhouse in power generation, power transmission, automation, CNC (computer numerical control for machine tools) and industrial software, has invested approximately $10 billion over the last 10 years in both acquisitions and internal efforts building its Digital Enterprise approach. Also, based on $5 billion in annual R&D spending, the Digital Enterprise covers a suite of simulation, communication and services-based software products, all under an open, cloud-based operating system Siemens is calling MindSphere.


Beginning At Home


Remember, Siemens is a manufacturer too, which led to proving the advantages of digitalization in one of its own factories. Bernd Heuchemer, vice president of motion control for Siemens AG, described how the company’s plant in Bad Neustadt, Germany was already efficiently producing 500,000 servo motors annually. Simulating both old and new equipment and connecting these digital twins to electronic production planning and engineering uncovered significant new efficiencies, he said. Setup time for new machine tools was reduced 60 percent; cycle time on several parts was reduced by up to 20 percent and plant utilization, at 70 percent for fiscal year 2016, is projected to hit 90 percent by 2020. What’s more, the plant is now producing 700,000 servo motors annually.


All this integrated design, engineering, production planning and production simulation takes place under MindSphere, the cloud-based operating system open to integrating both Siemens-developed and third-party applications for production improvement. “MindSphere is the means to provide agility and informed decision-making, leading to integrated execution,” says Rajiv Sivaraman, vice president, Siemens PLM Data Services, U.S. It quickly connects the digital world to real things, it is an open platform-as-a-service (PaaS) for third-party partner integration, and it enables closed-loop innovation by creating a complete digital twin of a production operation.


“This isn’t because it’s cool,” Sivaraman added. “It’s because it’s efficient. It can handle big data.”


MindSphere is the cloud-based home. However, the infrastructure is also made of  MindApps, both Siemens and third-party applications for related tasks, and MindConnect, secure plug-and-play connections of the apps to various sources on the shop floor including motors, robots, machine tools and other software packages such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and manufacturing execution systems (MES).


“It works like a cable box,” Sivaraman describes. Interested users obtain a MindSphere user account that directly integrates into Siemens’ SINUMERIK CNC control on a machine tool or to a connector box. Users confirm data acquisition and MindSphere connectivity, then machine status and production details are monitored through MindApps such as Manage MyMachines or Fleet Manager.


The machine tool hall at Siemens’ Technical Application Center provides real-world training of MindSphere applications on various production equipment.
The machine tool hall at Siemens’ Technical Application Center provides real-world training of MindSphere applications on various production equipment.


Production managers, manufacturing engineers, quality control personnel and other members of production teams can choose from different production setups, virtually commission machine tools and validate machining processes through such apps as Siemens’ NX Virtual Machine or Analyze MyWorkpiece. This all happens before a single chip is cut. Users can store, compare and use different setups as needs arise, stored either in the cloud (MindSphere), on site (SINUMERIK Integrate) or on the device (SINUMERIK Edge, offering high-speed “edge” data processing). Siemens reports more than 40 MindApps are available.


Running virtual production lines and entire virtual factories will also revolutionize worker training. Users can design their own interface screens on touch-sensitive monitors that eliminate separate buttons. Work instructions for operation, assembly or maintenance can be embedded in videos or screen text on tablets as well as workstations, not only eliminating the familiar laminated instruction sheets or job-ticket drawings at every machine tool, but they can also be automatically updated as jobs change.


“All this is designed to turn data into business value quickly,” Raj Batra says. Whether small or large, enterprises can level the playing field and reap the benefits of productivity advantages by embracing the digital frontier. Those who don’t make the adoption run the risk of being digitally disrupted.

    Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a contributing author and not necessarily Gray.

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