Siemens Xcelerator | Advanced Machine Engineering | Part Two

By Drew Wilson

Concept Design in Machine Engineering

Welcome back to another segment in our Siemens Xcelerator Advanced Machine Engineering blog series. This series is dedicated to showcasing how Siemens Xcelerator solutions can support our users throughout the entire lifecycle of their products. As we discussed last time, the progression of machinery design processes was previously kept independent to each part in the process. The problem that this creates is poor communication downstream with other teammates. When designers are not communicating about changes in design to the electrical and automation experts, it invites problems into the mix. What Siemens Xcelerator can bring to your workflow is not only more efficiency in design time, but also creates a better revenue stream.

In part one of the series, we kicked off by talking about what happens during the planning stage. Here we discussed the importance of purposeful planning and how to align product design with performance. In part two, we are focusing on concept design and the known benefits associated with it. Let’s dive in!

Benefits of good conceptual design

This image shows a rendered concept design of automation equipment.

The good news that comes with a well-produced concept are the many benefits that come along with it.  Like anything, a strong investment to the concept design in the beginning can pay dividends over the span of time. When it starts aligned, it helps set the stage for the whole project, team, and customers. In turn, this instills confidence in each member of the party to want to move forward.

When companies are able to show a solid proof of concept, this not only affects confidence in the product but also promotes their product in the virtual world. Showing renderings in marketing materials through promotional events and online engagement can set you apart from competitors. This is why an established concept can be such a crucial part in machine engineering. Allowing all parties to see how the machine behaves, the sequences involved, and showcases to customers exactly what they are looking for is a total differentiator.

The benefit of a good concept design is just taking it down a level deeper. Are the mechanical tools, the valves, the motors, are they sized correctly? Are they proportioned correctly? How will the interaction occur if you have multiple axis? Can you ensure that you don’t have any collisions? So, a good design can start with a very simple design. As you extend the complexity, just be sure to go back and validate.

Colm Gavin, Factory Automation Portfolio Development Manager

Flexible Design

Great designs are flexible

Another benefit of a well-thought-out design is the multiple design iterations that can stem from it. While a machine may have originally been tasked with just one simple operation, it is best to look at the whole chain of production. If there is product growth or variation in the future, can this machine handle it? The best practice here is to start with a very simple design – something that everyone can agree is rock solid. Then, go ahead and design for multiple variations. If you make a machine flexible with the tools inside, you can send many different products down the line which can save both time and money.

This is a trend that has been seen more and more with the growth in adaptability of machines. Without considering any variation, you could have 10 different machines producing 10 different products. This is a cost, space, and sustainability nightmare. For example, the new alternative to that is having one assembly creating 3-5 products. This is all possible by adapting technology like Siemens Xcelerator.

Bring a static model to life

What we have been alluding to so far recognizes that this stage produces a virtual representation of how the machine would perform. The upside to the virtual world versus static depiction is tremendous for all parties involved. What has changed in the last couple of years is that our MCD (Mechatronics Concept Designer) software allows us to merge and import signals from a real or virtual PLC (programmable logic controller) to bring a static model to life. This technology showcases how it will react on the assembly line. A major benefit that can be seen with this type of integration is the collaboration between the automation engineer and the designer. With TIA (Totally Integrated Automation) Portal utilized, the conversation between teams happens early and often.

This shows the digital twin of a machine.

Design challenges

Lack of a whole team dynamic

One of the biggest challenges during this stage revolves around team procedures. In order to create amazing proof of concepts, the amount of communication that revolves around it can seem quite daunting. Having a lot of moving parts and team members is one of the biggest causes for headaches. In today’s digital environment, teams are starting to collaborate and are in need of inheriting another team’s process. This type of inheritance can either build or break a design system. The real challenge here is building efficiency that satisfies each step of the process.

Two people having a conversation over a shop floor.

In the past, it has been known across the industry that there are designers or engineers that can be so stuck in their ways that the conversations happen too late in the game in order to make a change to the concept. This process can be a very one-way street where there are handoffs to the next team without any prior communication. This requires the teams downstream from the designers to have to modify designs in order to make an efficient product. This leads us straight into the next challenge seen around the industry.

Programming around design errors

Automation engineers have been at the short end of the stick for some time now. In many cases, they are the final people to see what they are going to have to automate for. Why this matters so much is that they may have hoped for a sensor in a certain area that would eliminate the need to program around mechanical issues. There is only so much planning you can do as an automation engineer while you wait for the physical machine to be built. Once the machine is built, this is when they can prove their code, modify the code to the design, and test it out with a physical PLC on the real machine. What virtual design concepts and virtual PLC’s have brought to the table eliminates these issues from the start.

Creating a consistent naming culture

The final challenge to discuss today is inconsistent naming systems within a design team. Without early collaboration, the nomenclature to refer to different devices on the machine can start to be a major hassle.Is it cylinder one extend cylinder, one retract, or is it cylinder? When multiple hands are in the mix throughout the process, each calling the same device a different name, you can imagine the difficulty faced when trying to piece together the final concept. Here we see again the importance of cross-collaboration early on within the design process.

Continue your journey with Siemens Xcelerator

A person on a shop floor with a graphic behind him.

Having a complete system that can help your team collaborate from the initial concept design through automation entirely in the virtual space is something that changes the game within factory automation. You can find these systems in our Siemens Xcelerator package which includes NX, TIA Portal, and integrated Factory Automation hardware. By including Siemens Xcelerator to your process, you are adding a teammate ready to face any challenge that you give it.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at