Winner of the Baden-Württemberg Innovation Prize 2020 (“Dr.-Rudolf Eberle Prize”)

ASCon Systems GmbH
Digital Twin

Planning, control and analysis of a changeable and flexible production in real time – this is the dream of every production manager! The new development makes this possible through a comprehensive information model and a high-performance execution architecture. Thus, all information from the different planning systems and levels involved in production is linked to a continuous information management without having to define the individual semantic and ontological relationships in advance and without having to code software for it. Thus, the production process is mapped and controlled comprehensively, completely and adaptable at any time. The modelled value-added chains are executed directly, and even operating resources can be exchanged without changes in the control logic.

The starting position
Modular, adaptable systems require modular, adaptable information models, which carry from the design, over the planning up to the execution without media breaks. This applies not only to production and logistics, but also to other fields of application of the digital twin, for example in building and infrastructure management. Today, the digital twin is omnipresent, usually understood as a virtual image of a delimited real system, without any possibility of intervention or feedback from the virtual into reality. This is in contrast to the approach of the new development: Not only the characteristics, but above all the behavior of the virtual and the real part of the twin must be identical at all times, which must be coupled bidirectionally for this purpose. This is the only way to draw the right conclusions in the overall context of a manufacturing system at all times and to make decisions about the digital twin that are immediately implemented in the real system.

With today’s solutions, this is feasible with high effort and minimal flexibility in the best case for small and delimited plant components. However, this is not possible for more complex production plants, consisting of intercommunicating control systems, often from different manufacturers, because programs of programmable logic controllers (PLC) usually only map local behavior of individual plants. The construction of a true digital twin, which maps both the overall system properties and the individual behavior of the subsystems, is not feasible for an overall system extending over the levels of today’s hierarchical automation pyramid.

The Innovation
The unique selling point of the innovative Digital Twin is a context-based real-time behavioral model for synchronization of product development, planning and production. The disruptive technology (patent pending in Europe, the USA and Japan) enables the value streams in production and logistics to be controlled without PLC programming. Connected to all real machines and plants involved, all signal streams are captured in the context of the value-added processes and thus provide the perfect basis for analytics and artificial intelligence at the same time. The complete digital integration of production with all upstream and downstream processes paves the way to a highly networked, autonomous production: rigid, inflexible, hard-coded PLCs are replaced and the production and logistics flow is made flexible and changeable. Instead of external programming specialists, in-house planners and fabricators are used, change cycles take minutes instead of days and weeks. Regardless of which acquisition systems and which combination of information and signal sources are present in production, these signals, data and information can be integrated into the context of a continuous value-added model, combined with other data from product and process management and used in a coordinated manner to control production. Functional expansions and parameter changes are thus possible at short notice even after commissioning, without having to resort to external service providers again and again. Likewise, a retrofit with high quality and more flexibility can be mastered even without the purchase of completely new systems, the planning/implementation time is shortened, and the risk of undesired side effects is reduced. With the process description of the value chains, models that can be executed in real time on any distributed hardware of the control level, e.g. PLC, edge devices, cloud, are automatically created.

This allows the planner to test his processes and incorporate changes reliably during the first definition. The individual production plans for the single item to be produced are created “on-the-fly”. Exactly what was planned is executed without the need for a PLC programmer. The process description is based on modular function and process modules, which the user can take from a library or define himself, making planning and control of production easier and qualitatively better. This also supports computer-aided comparison with already modeled processes and continuous learning from and towards best practices. Complexity and unnecessary variance can thus be reduced. Due to the independence of the process logic from the logic of the executing hardware, only the technically necessary or manufacturer-specified part of the plant and process control remains there. All process elements for the orchestration and concatenation of the added value are described and processed in the execution model – an explicit realization on the PLC level is thus no longer absolutely necessary. Hardware can thus be exchanged without changing the control logic.

The company
Founded in 2017, ASCon Systems succeeded in a quick start with well-known customers and a wide range of applications: In the 3rd fiscal year, the company generated over 6.5 million Euro with 50 employees. In 2018 Gartner awarded the company the title of Global Cool Vendor Industry 4.0, in 2019 1st prize at the CyberOne Hightech Award Baden-Württemberg followed and in 2020 EY nominated ASCon for the final round of the Entrepreneur of the Year competition. Many publications have appeared about the company since its launch. In several financing rounds between April 2018 and March 2020 the investor capital required for growth was acquired.

The well-rehearsed team, which works closely with customers at the headquarters in Stuttgart and at the locations in Munich, Mainz, Wolfsburg and Stade, has many years of management experience from start-up to corporate structures and the necessary expertise in both manufacturing and IT consulting as well as software development.

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