Even in the early days of computing, businesses
were looking at computers as tools
for setting up complex simulations. Some
credit Keith Douglas Tocher for developing the
first discrete-event simulation program in 1960.
Dubbed the General Simulation Program, his
program used a common structure to execute a
range of simulations.
Today, computers can simulate any industrial
application for use in training or for control and
analysis of specific automation operations. And
when it comes to training industrial workers in their
tasks, the confluence of simulation and workflow
management are growing closer together.
When it comes to the benefits of workflow software
for operator training, Allen Hackman, head
of manufacturing at ServiceNow (a supplier of
workflow software), explains that workflows aren’t
simply a software checklist, they are a true driver of
digital transformation. His reasoning for this is that
workflow software integrates with existing software
systems to unify the underlying insights and connect
siloed teams, data, processes, and systems to
drive action and get work done as required.
“For example, a digital workflow for a machine
setup process will provide the steps to take in addition
to knowledge that gives the employee instructions on
how to complete a task,” he said. “If there is an issue
with a step or the employee has a question, he or she
can trigger a request that automatically gets routed,
assigned, and actioned by a support team.”
Allen noted that, despite the similarities among
industrial companies when it comes to their interest
in workflow software, “we’re seeing different
industries use workflows in different ways to solve
challenges. Organizations with large complex supply
chains are prioritizing workflows that improve
communication and collaboration. Companies with
a large population of front-line factory workers are
using workflows to improve overall equipment effectiveness
and productivity. And those with major technology investments are using workflows to
identify and reduce cyber risk.”
The line between digital twins and simulations
can blur a bit when it comes to training applications.
The principal difference is that digital twins
are connected to their real-world
and reflect their operations in realtime—often
including the ability to control them remotely.
Simulations, on the other hand, are not typically
connected in a live fashion with the physical
equipment they represent. As such, simulation
software replicates the actions of real-world
equipment offline, providing a safe space for
trainees to interact with the equipment.
Pramesh Maheshwari, vice president and general
manager of lifecycle solutions and services at HoneywellProcess Solutions, sees aging workforces
and increasingly complex technologies as mega-trends putting pressure on industrial companies to
improve their training programs. He said, “More
than ever, industry needs training and development
solutions that empower workers to improve plant
performance, uptime, reliability, and safety. One of
the best ways to do this is by simulating real-world
environments and rare, but critical plant operation
and maintenance scenarios to enable safe, hands on
learning away from the hazards of a plant.”
Emerson, for example, is using simulation to
train refinery workers in Canada. Working with the
refinery, Emerson developed a digital twin of the
refinery’s production control system integrated
with a high fidelity simulator. Here, Emerson’s
DeltaV Simulate virtual control system is used to
mirror the refinery’s operator stations, engineering
stations, process controllers, and system functions.
Emerson’s Mimic software then simulates the processes,
equipment, transmitters, and final control
elements with operation based
This system provides trainees with virtual controls,
graphics, and alarms identical to those in the
refinery and allows the use of all Emerson DeltaV
software for training and development without the
refinery having to purchase duplicate control hardware
and system licenses.
Another application benefitting from simulation
is training workers on computer numerical control
(CNC) machines, such as milling machines,
routers, lathes, and laser cutters. Siemens offers a
CNC training platform for creating and operating
a CNC digital twin using the company’s Sinumerik
840D numerical control (NC) and NX software.
Trainees can operate an online digital twin of a
CNC machine at their own PC as well as safely
test and optimize NC programs without potentially
damaging the real machine.
And Honeywell recently released an updated
version of its Immersive Field Simulator, IFSR120,
described as a virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality
training tool based on a digital twin of a plant’s
operations. With this technology, events like primary
failures and switchovers, as well as cable and
power supply failures, can be simulated.
Though not a new concept, gamification is a trend
gaining ground in the simulation software arena. The
dictionary defines gamification as
the process of adding games or game-like
to a learning a task to encourage participation.
According to 3D game tech company Juego
Studios, gamification training simulations are a
good way to package complex content into interactive
visual modules. Trainees learn complex tasks
within a game like
environment. Realistic simulations
make dry content interesting while enabling
better understanding and memory retention.
Juego’s Unity3D game engine creates immersive 3D worlds that allow users to interact with complex
equipment and large machines. The Unity engine allows development
of cross-platform training applications for mobile
devices, desktops, and/or web browsers. Training simulations
can walk workers through safety procedures, operations, and
maintenance, as well as repair and assembly processes.
As an example, Juego Studios developed a 3D simulation
training module for employees working on drilling operations
with RFID tagged pipes. The training module simulates the
industrial environment with 3D images of equipment and
tools. It also provides instructions for fitting RFID tagged
pipes and drilling operations.
Another company in the simulation arena, SimutechMultimedia, uses gamification in its simulation software
to train manufacturing workers. The company’s Simutech
Training System teaches troubleshooting skills to workers
operating and maintaining industrial control systems.
The system takes trainees through a six-step approach
to troubleshooting circuits and helps them develop effective
techniques for safely navigating industrial electrical
controls, motors, and programmable logic controller (PLC)
circuits. Workers can personalize training progress and managers
can continuously monitor their development.