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Decreasing plant downtimes through test automation of PLC control functions with a digital twin

IAV engineers are dramatically decreasing downtime costs of complex material handling systems (MHS) through virtual commissioning and test automation of new Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) control functions by leveraging a digital twin of the MHS system running on a Speedgoat Baseline real-time target machine.

IAV is a globally renowned engineering company with profound knowledge in interdisciplinary processes as well as domains such as electrical and mechanical engineering, computer sciences and business administration. They are applying proven engineering methods such as continuous integration using model-based design, Hardware-in-the-Loop (HIL) simulation, test automation and agile working to automotive and industrial applications.

 "The Speedgoat real-time system offers us an easy-to-use solution to implement our plant models without having to worry about hardware specific configuration problems."

Volker Weck, Automotive Software Developer, IAV

Success Story

Virtual Commissioning of PLC Control Functions with a Digital Twin

Complex physical plants such as modern MHS are controlled by multiple control units on different automation levels. Traditionally, integrating and testing new controller functions and hardware requires a shutdown of the plant, resulting in significant downtime costs. In addition, achieving high test coverage using the real physical plant is time-consuming and costly. Furthermore, significant test automation of plant operation modes is hard to achieve, if not impossible, resulting in further downtimes due to late failure detection. To overcome these challenges, IAV designed a virtual plant of the MHS system and deployed it onto a Baseline real-time target machine. The Baseline real-time target machine was then connected to the PLC using communication interfaces such as PROFINET.

With this setup, IAV engineers could now already extend test coverage by using virtual commissioning with a digital twin. This was done by executing reproducible scenarios for I/O and Fieldbus communication and by performing signal manipulation to include erroneous behavior of components or Human-machine-interaction (HMI) entries.

Integrating Reproducible Test Automation

As test coverage increased, IAV started to leverage additional benefits of digital twins including automated and reproducible testing by integrating a test automation software called INCA FLOW via the integrated XCP and OPC UA interface. Every Baseline real-time target machine provides an XCP interface by default, whereas modern PLCs support access via OPC UA.

For the MHS project, the IAV product INCA FLOW was chosen to enable test specific reactions and validation of the complete system using graphical specifications. This allowed additional testing of critical plant conditions e.g. due to operating errors or defects, including those that may be too hazardous to test with the actual physical plant. The same test scenarios can also be leveraged for Software-in-the-Loop (SIL) or Model-in-the-Loop (MIL).

Integrating Reproducible Test Automation

Further Decreasing Downtimes with Predictive Maintenance

Together IAV and Speedgoat continue to drive Industry 4.0 and industrial workflows and processes, such as by deriving synthetic failure data from the physical simulation, classified through machine learning algorithms performing condition monitoring. As a result, plant downtimes can be further decreased through predictive maintenance.

IAV Testing Setup


IAV Testing Setup

Braunschweig, Germany

Images: IAV GmbH

MathWorks® products used

  • Simulink®
  • MATLAB® Coder™
  • Simulink® Coder™
  • Simulink® Real-Time™
  • Stateflow®

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