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Emulating an Automated Controls System | ISN
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This section of our website is dedicated to keeping you informed about the projects that we are working on. We will share how we have tackled unique engineering problems in the field, discuss new technology applications, and talk about how we are getting involved in the community.

Emulating an Automated Controls Systems

Posted by admin on October 8, 2013

The goal of emulation is to verify and test an automated system before setting foot into a customer’s facility.  There are two components required for emulating a material handling system: computer modelling software and controls software.  The modelling software’s job is to render the product movement and virtual environments while the linked PLC controls software initiates I/Os and hardware decisions in real time.  This allows both pieces of software to be fully tested in an office setting before it is shipped to site.  With emulation as part of our project lifecycle, we are able to detect bottlenecks and discover issues in a simulated environment rather than a real one.   We can save time debugging code on site, and also pass on cost savings to our customers.  It is a win-win situation for everyone involved.

There are many software packages that are marketed towards modelling automated systems in the material handling world including AutoMod and Emulate3D.  These are great tools, but there are also many other frameworks often overlooked.  The reason being that these other engines are marketed to make games.  They don’t have all of the baked in features that you would be used to having in a simulation engine (PLC communication drivers, standard device components, etc.) but essentially perform the same calculations in the background.  We decided to perform a study on the path to our own framework.  Our final choice satisfied a long list of requirements, some of which are mentioned below:

  • The ability to render hundreds of objects and large scenes in 3D space
  • Be flexible enough to allow for custom code and scripting in a common language
  • Maintain a main execution loop that has a low cycle time for real time communication with external devices
  • Position objects in 3D space via real world physics
  • The ability to connect multiple emulations together
  • The freedom to create and simulate any new device that comes onto the market

After choosing a gaming engine and performing applying a little bit of research and development, we were able to model a fully functional airport baggage handling system.  Take a look at the video below and check it out for yourselves.


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