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Accelerate development with model-based design

In manufacturing industries, model-based design is gaining more and more popularity in R&D. It makes development faster, more robust, and iterative by automated code generation and almost zero need for physical devices. The testing cycle can be shortened significantly.

In competitive markets, speeding up development is often necessary in manufacturing industries. However, accelerating should never lead to malfunctions in production equipment or defective products and unhappy customers. Model-based design addresses this problem – and many more at the same time.

“Perhaps the strongest single bonus in model-based design is how much it accelerates the testing cycle. It enables identifying potential technical issues that can appear in production very early during the development process. We can ensure that glitches will not appear in the final testing.”

Jarkko Nokka

Lead of the machine automation team at Etteplan’s unit in Lappeenranta, Finland

Model-based design is a method suitable for developing systems for industrial plants and equipment, automation systems, and motion control. It is often applied for developing control systems, embedded systems, and PLCs (programmable logic controller). Model-based design relies heavily on the use of simulations and digital twins.

“Earlier, you had to tie everything to PLC hardware. Now that nothing is tied to hardware, we can demonstrate early-stage models to customers and start generating added value together for the design work. For instance, we can set up two simulations that talk to each other and scroll through various concepts at a fast pace. In the end, there will be fewer fires to put out.”

Saving time by bridging the bottom of the regular V-model

For software developers doing systems engineering, the V-model has been the dominating norm. In its visualized form, the V-shape starts from the upper left by definitions, comes down to detailed design, and goes up again on the upper right from testing to production. While it ensures meticulous development, it tends to be slow. This poses a challenge, especially when existing systems in operation require adjustments.

“I really like how model-based design builds a bridge over the V-model. There is no need to go through the bottom to test out how the system works. Traditionally, it has been a must to go all the way to the bottom until we have a test-worthy complete system, which takes time – and money. Now, we can even test the complete system before the subsystems have been defined,” explains Jarkko Nokka.

Model-based design also helps avoiding downtime of existing systems when there is need to implement new functionalities. Normally, this could involve closing down a production line for the testing phase to confirm everything will function after the changes are implemented. With model-based design, the existing system can be exported into a digital twin for testing and ensuring that everything will be fault-free.

Reliable and predictable automatically generated code

One exciting feature is automated code generation enabled by tools for model-based design. In certain industries such as avionics, non-human and automatically generated code has already been a requirement to eradicate safety risks of human errors.

“Writing code can be removed from the project because modeling software can do it. You can press a big green arrow button, which generates reliable and predictable code. There is no longer need for drawing a flowchart and having someone write code based on the simulation phase,” Nokka says.

Etteplan has a vast pool of experienced experts in electrical automation for various industries. The simulation team alone employs a hundred people, and there are 4,000 people in total. They have the know-how required for the development from modeling to creating infrastructure, and hands-on insight of the entire technology field.

“An industrial customer that has a new concept for its systems can present us with a project challenge. Then, we can make simulations to verify whether the customer’s concept is feasible and what needs to be done to avoid issues.”

Jarkko Nokka

Key benefits of model-based design:

  • Faster development projects.
  • Shorter testing cycle.
  • Minimal need for physical devices.
  • Simulations of large-scale projects enable easy customer demonstrations.
  • Automated code generation removes the risk of human errors.

“All in all, model-based design has moved from the hype curve to production and implementation. It makes development fast, robust, and iterative. At Etteplan, we are able to support customers, provide design as a service and manage systems testing,” Jarkko Nokka concludes.

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Eero Kaappa

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