Small plate – huge effect

Identification of products, components, machines and systems, and provision of relevant information play a key role in industry. In theory, all documentation (including subordinate products and components) should be directly available at the parts of every system. However, this is not how it works in practice, as often it is not possible to access the relevant information, data and documents at any time. Generally, lack of space alone makes it impossible for documentation to be stored directly at the system. What's more, there are other challenges, starting with documentation in different languages, to updates and sensible, practical storage of information and data (such as maintenance reports) over the whole service life of a system.

Now, you could argue that increasing digitalisation is making this easier. But this is not the case. Granted, in many companies, accompanying software applications are being used to maintain uninterrupted operation of the system, including asset management systems and document management systems, as well as maintenance and service software. But in order to be used, these systems also have to be filled out with all the data for the systems and components used, requiring the user to put in a great deal of manual effort since data can often only be updated by hand.

The digital nameplate – making your life easier

Digital nameplates, in combination with digital twins based on the asset administration shell (AAS for short), provide a suitable solution for these problems. This combination allows you to access all available information and documents for a system, machine or component – any time, anywhere. The only technical requirement here is a smartphone or tablet with integrated camera and an Internet connection. In order to access the information for an asset, all you have to do is scan the corresponding code on the printed rating plate.

How do I get a digital nameplate?

Digital nameplates are a development of existing, printed rating plates. To link the digital information model to the real product (asset), the printed rating plate is extended to include a QR code, RFID code or 2D data matrix code. A special frame is printed around the code to make the digital nameplate easy to identify. A link to the manufacturer platform and the serial number of the asset are coded into the QR code, RFID code or 2D data matrix code attached to the rating plate. The combination of serial number and manufacturer link is globally unique, suitable for distinct identification of an asset. At the same time, all information and documents associated with a serial number can be called up using it. The exact specifications for a digital nameplate are described in detail in IEC 61406 (formerly DIN SPEC 91406). The marking according to IEC 61406 may be used free of charge by companies. Thanks to this mechanism, the printed rating plate serves as a signpost to the digital twin.

Digital twins based on an asset administration shell

Digital twins are almost excessively talked about in industry. Often what companies mean by this is a simulation model which is created and provided in their own formats. There are considerable differences between these and digital twins based on an asset administration shell.

Asset administration shells are data models that have been described in manufacturer-independent specifications. They have essentially been developed by the "Industrial Digital Twin Association" (IDTA), an organisation bringing together over 80 companies, associations and universities. Member companies include many notable names in the supplier industry. The aim of the IDTA is to establish asset administration shells and develop submodels.

Asset administration shells set themselves apart as data models thanks to their interoperability. By using classifications, e.g. ECLASS, all information can be easily imported into software environments, such as an ERP or asset management system. Standardised REST API interfaces are available to exchange information in system-independent applications.

Asset administration shells are divided into submodels, which contain the corresponding information regarding the asset. This covers all aspects over one product lifetime. Asset administration shells are of particular interest in the following areas:

  • Digital engineering: With an asset administration shell, all relevant data can be transferred for digital engineering. In future, it will form the foundation for digital engineering. Typically, 3D and ECAD models, technical data and dimensional drawings are stored in an asset administration shell for this purpose.
  • Simulation: With asset administration shells, simulation models, as well as the required data for simulations, can be transferred.
  • Transfer of core data: Asset administration shells can be used to transfer data across the industry's whole value creation chain much more efficiently, thereby saving resources. A complete data transfer is possible, starting with the smallest screw, components and machines through to the whole system via all companies involved. The data from asset administration shells can be used for integrating product data in ERP or asset management systems. This is currently a manual job in many companies, which is often carried out in a rudimentary way owing to resource reasons.
  • Document management: In the asset administration shell, documents can be transferred via the "Handover documentation" submodel. VDI 2770 serves as a basis, which requires additional classifications and descriptions for each document. This simplifies automatic inclusion of documents in a document management system.
  • Communication between machines: In networked systems, machines can communicate with each other for the purposes of Industry 4.0 using the asset administration shell. Via the asset administration shell, for example, machines are able to order a service themselves.
  • Use as a "digital product passport": System engineers, mechanical builders and users can further build up the data in the asset administration shell. This may include information such as the installation location, wiring details, parameterisation, repair information and maintenance details.
  • Controlling production: Asset administration shells can be used to control production so that it takes place autonomously. Data from a configurator, for example, can interact directly with production thanks to an asset administration shell.

The examples show that there are now very few limits to the possible uses of asset administration shells. However, it is precisely this that makes it difficult to identify the required applications. Particularly in the case of existing systems with a lower degree of networking, many users may question the benefit of digital nameplates and asset administration shells.

How does it work in practice?

Answers to these questions are provided by the demonstrator from R. STAHL, the internationally leading supplier of explosion-protected components and systems. A demonstrator has been created for a certain number of explosion-protected products from R. STAHL, which shows how the asset administration shells have been structured. Six example applications demonstrate the real advantages to be gained from use of digital nameplates in combination with asset administration shells for new and existing systems:

  • Automatically inform customers of firmware updates: Customers can be automatically informed of firmware updates by e-mail. This eliminates the need for tiresome searches.
  • Simplify searching for product details for service technicians: When technicians are supported by a back office, all data relating to a product can be called up quickly and easily. This saves time that would otherwise be spent looking through enclosed paper documentation.
  • Automatically create pre-filled returns forms: Automate and simplify the returns process. All available data about the asset is directly transferred to the returns shipping form and can be sent to the manufacturer at the touch of a button. This prevents errors and reduces the work involved in returns.
  • Provide a digital maintenance handbook for components, machines and systems: A digital maintenance handbook can be developed based on the asset administration shell and digital nameplates. This means that expensive paper documentation is no longer needed in the field. This saves time and money.
  • Provide all documents/certificates for audits and customs processing: All certificates can be accessed directly by scanning the QR code on the product. Save time when looking for certificates required for an audit or customs processes.
  • Identify successor products in service cases: Identify successor products directly without needing to search on manufacturers' websites. This significantly reduces downtime and improves effectiveness in service cases.

In conclusion, the combination of digital nameplates and asset administration shells opens up new possibilities for all companies and significantly reduces the effort spent on preparing information. Using manufacturer-independent standards and specifications allows for savings throughout the value creation chain. Furthermore, this combination fulfils the requirements for a future digital product passport for the EU, making it fit for the future.

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