See Siemens digital twin for its first digital native factory – video

See Siemens digital twin for its first digital native factory – video

Feature articles |
By Nick Flaherty

Siemens has built its first ‘digital native’ factory at a Chinese motor drive subsidiary using a digital twin as a key tool (see video below).

Siemens Numerical Control in China became a Digital Enterprise by consolidating three production sites into one factory built with a digital twin. This created Siemens’ largest R&D and manufacturing centre outside Germany.

Siemens Numerical Control Ltd. (SNC) in China produces CNC numerically controlled production systems, drives, and motors, and then delivers them to high-end manufacturing industries in the country and around the world.

The company made the decision to consolidate its R&D, production, storage, and logistics into a single 70,000-square meter site, but needed to maintain production volumes and continue meeting customer demand. “Nanjing was very seriously hit by Covid,” says Yu Rong Zhou, General Manager of Siemens Numerical Control. “Normally, we would have needed to stop production for weeks, but in the market situation, that was not possible.”

It was a challenge to digitally plan the development of such a large area in a very short time period while minimizing costs. “In the process of exploring how to tackle the project and determining what the new facility should become, the idea of the first Digital Native Factory was born,” said  Stefan Krug, Head of Lean Digital Excellence at Siemens and Project Manager of SNCnew.

“From the first idea until the start of production, every step was digitally supported,” he said. “We built up a detailed model of the factories step by step,” he says. ​

The Digital Twin was built from a combination of factory data, production line data, performance data, and building information from the existing sites.

“We simulated the performance of the new factory, even before we poured the first concrete. We could plan the dimensions of the building, the material flows, and the required media supplies, such as nitrogen, power, and IT far more precisely,” he said.

Building the factory 

In the Digital Enterprise, product development, automated production processes and digitalization go hand in hand. Digitalized and automated equipment, processes, and systems are interconnected in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). All data generated is fed back into a continual feedback loop of optimization. 

The detailed digital planning allows the two existing production sites, including PCB production, and the warehouse to be moved to the new site with minimum interruption to the production schedule, and with no customer impact.

Using the streams of data of existing SNC production lines, consultants at Siemens Advanta evaluated various production scenarios using Tecnomatix Plant Simulation. They identified bottlenecks in production, and optimized materials flows and employee walkways. SNC operators tested the production setup via Virtual Reality. “They were wearing VR glasses and could literally walk through the new factory,” said Krug. Their feedback was used to fine-tune the final design.

By optimizing the flow and layout in the digital world, SNC improved the utilization rates of the machines, used 40% less space for the same output than the old factory, and saved themselves from investing in a second production line.

Data and digitalization were also used to create a sustainable production environment. By making structural changes to the factory’s Digital Twin, SNC saved resources and materials, thereby lowering the site’s environmental impact before construction even started.

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The new SNC facility is also equipped with automatic LED lighting, and high-efficiency pumps, fans, and cooling elements, all of which contribute to savings of more than 5 million kilowatt hours a year. A photovoltaic system was also installed. With these energy-saving measures, “we can also reduce carbon emissions by 3,300 tons every year,” says Yu Rong Zhou, General Manager Siemens Numerical Control. This corresponds to circa 400 round-trip flights between Munich and New York City. An integrated rainwater recovery system further translates to a 6,000 cubic meter decrease in annual water usage.

After intensive months of planning, simulations, testing, and construction, the Digital Native Factory was completed. “Due to detailed digital planning, we could move the two existing production sites and the warehouse ahead of the already tight schedule, with minimum interruption to the production schedule, and with no customer impact,” says Krug.

It took 300 employees 30 days to move 8,000 machines, tools and devices, 20,000 palettes of materials into the proof-of-concept plant.

SNC’s Digital Twin lives on as an essential tool. The Digital Twin can react quickly to changes required for the market, ensuring that systems and processes work before major changes are to be undertaken. Digitalized factory production control and order planning, combined with optimized processes, also help SNC synchronize customer orders from the start..

 “This digital factory is really taking the digital transformation to the next level,” says Yu. “We were able to reduce time to market by 200%. We have even been able to expand our manufacturing capacity by 200% while improving productivity by 20%.”

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