The Simulation Series, Part V: Emulation – An Effective Way to Virtually Commission Industrial Systems

engineer wearing a hardhat smiling in a smart factory machine

Emulation reduces installation and commissioning lead times and allows organizations to train new engineers without slowing down production.

In the previous articles that comprise this series, we discussed various aspects of simulation and the benefits of using simulation analysis for manufacturing and industrial systems. In Part V, we will discuss using emulation technology to virtually commission industrial systems with the aim of reducing installation and commissioning lead times.

What is Emulation?

Emulation is a type of simulation except with a few differences. In emulation, the system interacts with the control system, receiving commands and acting in accordance with those commands and feedbacks.

Emulation is a methodology that involves both software and hardware. It is used to analyze the entire processing of tasks, including the results of each task and their collateral effects in the system. Thus, emulation forms the technical ground for virtual commissioning of industrial systems.

Emulation for Virtual Commissioning

Dynamism of the market is increasing exponentially each day. In turn, the complexity and challenges across industries – including manufacturing, processing, inventory, warehouse, logistics, and supply chains – are multiplying in proportion. As such, the lead time to introduce new product and services to market is decreasing tremendously.

Traditionally, commissioning is the anchor leg of the project relay. A commissioning team is responsible for making the system work on time, which creates additional pressure on the team and project.

Today, virtual commissioning helps to shorten project lead times by reducing overall commissioning times drastically.

Virtual commissioning is a process in which the virtual replica of a physical system, including its physics and behavior, is developed. The virtual replica establishes two-way communication with the control system through various industrial communication protocols and forms a closed-loop control system without the physical system; this is the foundation of virtual commission.

Virtual commissioning can be executed in parallel to control system development, thus shifting many commissioning activities to either initial or middle stage of the project lifecycle. It also allows for easy configuration of existing systems where process, software, and/or hardware changes can be done on a virtual model of the system. That allows the system developer to test different what-if scenarios and modify anything without any capital cost.

Where can Virtual Commissioning be applied?

Virtual commissioning can be applied to various industries – including processing, inventory, warehouse, logistics/supply chain, and manufacturing – wherever any form of automated systems can be used. It can be performed for both low-level control systems like programmable logic controller (PLC) as well as high-level control system such as a warehouse control system (WCS) and a warehouse management system (WMS). Also, it helps in research and development of new products and in presenting the concept to a potential customer.

Almost every industry spends enormous amounts of time and resources on training to align new engineers with industry requirements. Sometimes, this process slows down production. Emulation methodology and virtual commissioning can be used to train trainees without disturbing production.

Benefits of Virtual Commissioning

Virtual commissioning offers valuable benefits, both tangible and intangible. Here are several that pertain across various industries:

  • Build better products by virtual experimenting
  • Improve control systems
  • Improve productivity
  • Reduce project lead time
  • Reduce on-site testing
  • Reduce project cost

On the Emulation and Virtual Commissioning Horizon...

Business automation, warehouse automation and logistics automation are fuelling and accelerating research and development in emulation technologies and virtual commissioning. The COVID19 pandemic was also a catalyst and accelerated innovation processes within the field. Hence, the scope of emerging emulation technologies and enhancements in virtual commissioning methodology is becoming vast — and expected to only expand further in the future, delivering significant tangible benefits to the industries.

This concludes Actalent's Simulation Series. We hope you’ve enjoyed it. Stay tuned for more relevant insights from our engineering and sciences experts.


Virtual Commissioning of Mechatronic Systems with the Use of Simulation, J. Hloska & M. Kubín, Mechatronics 2013, Springer
Virtual factories: An object-oriented simulation-based framework for real-time FMS control, Bodner, D. A., and S. A. Reveliotis, IEEE International Conference
Integrating Virtual Commissioning Based on High Level Emulation into Logistics Education; Wladimir Hofmann, Sebastian Langer, Sebastian Lang,Tobias Reggelin; Elsevier Ltd