Siemens PLM NX 12 and the Road to the Digital Twin

When Siemens launched the twelfth version of NX, their flagship product for CAD/CAM/CAE, it was easy to see the influence of the industry’s megatrends. Developments in systems engineering, IoT, digital twins and an expanded use of simulation software in all phases of the product development chain have all, to some extent, been integrated into new NX 12.0. In the same way, it’s also clear that increasing product complexity sets the bar even higher when it comes to integrating these capabilities.

Today's products are manifesting a shift from mechanical components to a more electronic and software-dominated product Integrating and supporting these distinct and disparate areas has become the key to running a successful product creation team.

Siemens is working towards a future that links silos and data islands through open formats that can carry increasingly complex product models back and forth through iterative development processes. Ideally, nothing is lost due to a bad connection or error-prone manual process.

The developers at Siemens NX have targeted all of this - the latest 12.0 edition comes loaded with solutions that combine mechanics, electronics, and software through integration with Mentor Graphics Capital and Xpedition portfolios for power systems, power generation and PCB (printed circuit board) design.

Some Background on the Digital Twin Concept

The industry’s hype around digital twins is intense. How it will all translate into complete solutions, however, is not yet fully clear. We are at the beginning of the era of the digital twin, with the first "packaged" solutions just starting to materialize.

Digital twins are not really new in product development. Even though the dual functionality idea is new, the concept of a digital 3D model with all imaginable information attached to it has been around for at least a decade.

The analyst firm Gartner usually describes “the instrumented thing”—a product that is equipped with sensors, software and other components to be connected to the network—as a building block in the IoT. The digital twin representation—the 3D model—enables all parties involved to follow and monitor the thing and make operational, service and maintenance decisions related to that thing’s context.

The digital twin has strong links with PLM. Data from the product in operation in the field can be re-fed to the PLM system and used as the basis for further innovations and improvements.

All in all, this “closed loop design” will bring about a change in how these "things" are developed and used. The product development and manufacturing processes in particular will be greatly influenced and streamlined. For example, analyst IDC argues that companies investing in this type of technology during the current and following year will experience a 30 percent improvement in critical processes.

NX 12.0 and System Driven Product Development

The documentation of IoT and digital twins begins with CAD and CAE/simulation tools. Jan Larsson, Siemens marketing director, believes NX 12.0 has all the required solutions for "next generation design, simulation and manufacturing solutions that enable companies to realize the value of digital twins."

Let’s take a look at the new version of NX and how it supports the “ideation twin.”

NX is intended to support system driven product development, based on the Requirements, Functional, Logical and Physical (RFLP) methodology. This links the logical and physical abstractions within both the electrical and mechanical domains. NX 12.0 combines design optimization tools, advanced geometry generation, freeform creation and parametric design to realize generative design. Here, the company's "Convergent Modeling Technology" plays the lead role, and enables designers to seamlessly model mesh patterns in combination with precise geometry.

“The latest version of NX is a milestone,” summarized Allan Behrens, an analyst at Taxal. “Moving the former convergence technology forward to include generative, additive and multidisciplinary design is impressive. With these additions, I think that NX users will have a highly competent tool to both develop and deliver tomorrow's highly demanding and often complex product designs.”

Behrens also pointed to the connections that the system offers to the manufacturing area. "The development here is part of a wider rollout of capabilities that also affect performance as far as major assemblies and model-based engineering work are concerned.”

Behrens noted that NX, with the integration of Mentor's Electronic Design Automation technology for electrical and built-in systems and the fast-paced integration of electrical systems, cabling and PCB elements, provides users with a range of tools that covers more than the competing solutions. "This is very valuable, especially for users in the automotive and aerospace industry," Behrens concluded.

Siemens divides their concept of the digital twin into three distinct phases or aspects:

Ideation: a twin for the product development process

Realization: a twin for the manufacturing phase with links to a digitally controlled manufacturing process

Utilization: a twin for the product in the hands of the end user, with feedback functions to PLM

Conclusions on the Path to IoT and Digital Twins  

This is how you go about realizing IoT and digital twins in the Siemens world. The CAD program is the first step on the road, and given the complexity of the IoT and the establishment of digital twins, a few factors have become clear:

1.    CAD is not, as has often been argued in recent years, just a staple or commodity; it is a strategic resource that must be able to relay information to a variety of other functions in development, manufacturing and in use.

2.    Simulation will be needed in all phases of product development and in all later phases of the product life cycle, even when the product is in the hands of the user. One example is simulating a facility to optimize it for operation.

3.    A PLM/PDM system becomes increasingly necessary to structure processes and product data. It becomes the backbone that links product development, manufacturing, distribution and data retrieval for new innovations and management of the entire product life cycle.