Automation Simulations for Efficient, Turnkey Solutions

Solu-Tech’s partnership with Siemens gives it a leg up in automation and special machine solutions.

When engineers need to design a product, their likely first step is to create a plan and model for the object with computer-aided design (CAD) to ensure its proper functionality. For example, if you’re designing a bottle cap, verifying the shape and size of the cap for an appropriate fit on the bottle are important parameters to be considered.

But, what about designing an entire plant with equipment for the manufacturing of that final product? While a bottle cap is one object with limited movement, a production fabrication line can be an enormous system with many moving parts that require precise control systems. For complex engineering systems, you might make a digital twin—an exact virtual replica of a process or product—in a simulation platform to confirm a working design prior to building a costly manufacturing facility, especially when it comes to creating specialty manufacturing equipment.

Rather than using generic machines, many manufacturing processes require specialty equipment that must be custom designed to meet a client’s specific needs. A company delivering solutions to these one-of-a-kind requirements is Solu-Tech, an engineering firm located in Alsace, France. With a slogan of “tailor-made solutions for a controlled process,” Solu-Tech is attentive to customers and available to help with automation, industrial computing, vision control, robotics and special machine needs.

Siemens simulations ensure the functionality of engineering designs. (Image courtesy of Solu-Tech.)

Siemens simulations ensure the functionality of engineering designs. (Image courtesy of Solu-Tech.)

Solu-Tech was created in 2001 by four employees at GEBO, a manufacturer of conveyors, in order to offer various services for customers in different fields. Two years later, Solu-Tech became the second French company to become a Siemens Solution Partner. Thus, much of the software the firm relies on come from Siemens. The company has since grown to 23 people and completed numerous customer-driven projects.

Many customers are looking for turnkey projects they can buy as completed projects tailored to their needs. To meet these requests, Solu-Tech has grown from a service provider to a fully integrated industrial machine design business, with a focus on specialty machines.

Due to the flexibility of design Solid Edge offers, Solu-Tech relies on it for the design of machines. Solid Edge is a 3D CAD software that lets users model and test the functionality of an engineering design. Solid Edge and NX/MCD are compatible. If changes need to be made to a machine during a simulation, they can be completed within NX/MCD or retrieved directly from Solid Edge.

Siemens NX/MCD, have been particularly useful to the increasing number of specialty machine projects being completed at Solu-Tech. When designing solutions on a deadline, the company’s experts don’t have time to wait for the equipment to be created and physically built in a workshop for testing. This is where Mechatronic Concept Design (MCD) comes in handy. 

Siemens Solid Edge and NX Mechatronics Concept Design are used to design specialty equipment at Solu-Tech. (Image courtesy of Solu-Tech.)

Siemens Solid Edge and NX Mechatronics Concept Design are used to design specialty equipment at Solu-Tech. (Image courtesy of Solu-Tech.)

NX/MCD is a user-friendly program for the creation and authentication of a series of alternative system designs early on in the modeling process. Aside from seeing what the design looks like, users can prove the system works prior to constructing it.

Through the creation of a digital version of production equipment, engineers can perform an in-depth life-cycle analysis of a system to foresee issues that could happen. If digital twins of existing equipment are created, data collected from sensors within the system can be entered into the simulation to uncover potential future complications and find ways to improve upon the existing process.

This digital twin created in Siemens Solid Edge and NX/MCD allows Solu-Tech engineers to predict what could happen during physical testing, enabling the identifications of issues with manufacturing equipment early during development. Ultimately, Solu-Tech is able to save time and lower the risk of having an inoperable system reach the production stage.

The main challenge Solu-Tech faces in its projects is determining the behavior of the manufacturing equipment. Solu-Tech uses other Siemens digital simulation programs to test additional parameters that affect machine behavior.

Totally Integrated Automation (TIA) PORTAL V15 provides Solu-Tech with access to an entire spread of digitalized automation services for a variety of tasks, including digital planning, integrated engineering and transparent operation. TIA PORTAL allows the company to program a programmable logic controller (PLC), display and drivers. SIMATIC WinCC software, used as a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and human-machine interface (HMI) to oversee and control largescale industrial processes over long distances, is also part of its installation supervision developments.

“NX/MCD allows us to retrieve the Solid Edge 3D design model, to set up the movements. This lets our automation engineers test the PLC program in conjunction with the virtual machine,” said Solu-Tech CEO Bruno Velten.

Bottling equipment refurbishment by Solu-Tech. (Image courtesy of Solu-Tech.)

Bottling equipment refurbishment by Solu-Tech. (Image courtesy of Solu-Tech.)

In PLCSIM Advanced, a user can build virtual controllers to test a control program in a simulation controller prior to inputting the program in a real plant controller, while SIMIT provides an inclusive analysis of automation applications. The platform also provides an opportunity for operators to train in an authentic, virtual setting prior to building the real system. The ability to test the system in advance optimizes the process and accelerates start-up time, leading to the efficient development of a manufacturing facility.

Through its partnership with Siemens, Solu-Tech is required to maintain a high level of software technical knowledge. These high standards are verified through tests and audits taken by Solu-Tech technicians’ regarding their knowledge of the software packages Siemens has to offer.

“It’s a guarantee of trust and respect toward Solu-Tech, and it is a recognition of Solu-Tech’s know-how,” Velten said.

With industry trending toward digitalization, Solu-Tech is focused on strategic developments for digitization. The use of digital twins and simulation programs has been a key part of Solu-Tech’s success. Looking to the future, it will remain an important step to efficiently delivering functioning engineering designs for complex systems.

“Solu-Tech is moving toward the global control of special machine projects in terms of assembly workshop and personnel in order to have all the skills in-house,” Velten said. “Solu-Tech must be at the forefront of technology for its customers to offer them the latest developments.”  

Siemens has sponsored this post. They have had no editorial input to this post. Unless otherwise stated, all opinions are mine. — Kristine Horvat