Developer Experience – from intuitive to complex

It sounds like an exciting vision of the future: users from every discipline can use ready-made program modules to quickly and easily create simulations, optimization tasks or analyses using artificial intelligence (AI). This can then also be implemented by departments whose employees do not have knowledge of a high-level programming language. That’s the idea. Of course, developers must first create these program modules so business users can assemble a solution that meets their requirements.

AI-powered analytics for the business department

Together with our partners, we are researching in the AI marketplace project to get closer to this vision. The name-giving goal is to develop AI applications in the field of the product development process and offer them on a central trading platform. The range will also include services such as seminars on selected AI topics or contract development as well as ready-made AI-supported apps and program blocks for very specific tasks. The development and reuse of the apps are currently being tested. The project team is evaluating the benefits and quality of the results at the same time.

Different programming levels for extended use

So that’ s the state of research, but how exactly do we at CONTACT support the development of reusable program modules, the integration of simulation models or AI-supported analysis methods? One example of practical application can be found in the area of predictive maintenance. Predictive maintenance means that maintenance periods do not take place at fixed intervals as before, but are calculated depending on operating data and events at the machine or plant. For such use cases, our Elements for IoT platform provides a solution to analyze operating data directly. The digital twin stores the data of the machine or plant in a unique context. This data can be directly retrieved and easily analyzed using block-based programming. With the no-code functionality of the IoT platform, departments can intuitively create digital twins, define automatic rules and monitor events, and create diagrams and dashboards – without writing a line of code.

In addition, there are applications around the Digital Twin that require more programming expertise. For this, the platform offers analysts the possibility to develop their models themselves in a higher programming language using a Jupyter Notebook or other analysis tools. Especially in the area of prototyping, Python is the language of choice. However, it is also possible to work with a compiler-based programming language such as C++. Continuous calculation of the predictions is then done by automating the models, which are available in a runtime environment. The code is executed either in the company’s own IT infrastructure or directly at the plant or machine in the field (edge).

We call this procedure low-code development, because only the code for developing the models is written. The data connection is made via the Digital Twin and is done configurationally. The piece of program code can then be reused as a program block for various applications, such as digital twins within a fleet.

CONTACT Elements for IoT is thus open to interactions at different levels: from the use of predefined building blocks (no-code), to the possibility of interacting with self-written program code (low-code), to the definition of own business objects and the extension of the platform based on Python.

Anyone out there not yet in the cloud?

Yes, this is a serious question: Is there anyone who does not yet use cloud services, whether from their computer at home, at work or directly from their cell phone? We have all become so accustomed to using cloud servers like WhatsApp, Facebook or Dropbox. And these services work, are secure and are always available. Who would want to set up their own server at home for data communication or file exchange? Even at work, more and more companies are renting data exchange (Dropbox Enterprise) and communication services (Slack, MS Teams). In short: The use of cloud services at home and at work is becoming more and more standard.

So why not use the same kind of data management, file sharing and collaboration services for product-related data such as 3D CAD models, bills of materials and design specifications in the cloud?

Why not PLM from the cloud?

In the past, there was some skepticism about this in terms of network bandwidth, performance and security. But cloud solution providers, especially the big cloud hyperscalers, have done their homework, providing sufficient network capacity and even running their own physical cables across oceans. Take a minute and do the speed test at Amazon’s AWS Global Accelerators (https://speedtest.globalaccelerator.aws/#/).

Security concerns can also no longer be a valid argument for not running business-critical applications like a PLM system in the cloud. Companies like AWS, Azure and Google offer everything you need for highly secure, encrypted communications. Add your own virtual private network, single sign-on directory access, and multifactor authentication with timeout, and you’re as secure or more secure than you could ever be with your own infrastructure.

Cloud PLM from CONTACT Software

So it is a logical step that CONTACT Software also offers its solutions in the cloud. The idea: to reach a larger customer base faster (time to value). Since then, numerous potential and existing customers have actively approached us to run our products CIM Database PLM, the project management solution Project Office or the IoT platform CONTACT Elements for IoT in the cloud.

The CONTACT Cloud Solutions offer customers, on the one hand, a standard SaaS solution (Software as a Service – see NIST) with all PLM, project management and IoT functions that you can also install on-premise. In addition, there are predefined ERP interfaces in our technology platform as well as CAD integrations based on the new Workspaces Desktop for Web. For customers who want to customize the application or even implement their own solutions on top of the CONTACT Elements framework, CONTACT offers an enterprise edition of its platform in the cloud. This contains the entire CI/CD DevOps infrastructure to program locally, merge customizations, verify and deploy to test and production instances in the cloud.

So what is there to wait for? Get to know the possibilities of the CONTACT Cloud now.

The Digital Twin at the Center of Renewable Energy

According to the German Wind Energy Association (BWE), the share of wind energy in German electricity production this year is 27 percent, and in 2020 wind energy even represented the most important energy source in the German electricity mix. In total, more than 31,000 turbines have been installed, saving 89 million tons of CO2 equivalent in 2019. Wind power is thus a mainstay of low-CO2 and sustainable energy generation and makes an important contribution to the energy transition. Further increasing yields while reducing maintenance costs is therefore of great importance.

Increasing the efficiency of wind farms with smart systems

Digital Twins are the central element in exploiting the full potential of wind power and maximizing yields. Driven by the vision of creating a data-based development tool for the wind industry, the WIND IO joint project, funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, started a year and a half ago.

Under the leadership of the Institute for Integrated Product Development BIK at the University of Bremen, we are working with several consortium partners to build research facilities as cyber-physical systems and retrofit them with sensors, electronics and computers known as IoT gateways. This makes it possible to digitally map all the operating information of the real plant and combine it on a digital twin. The operating behavior can be simulated on the basis of the Digital Twin, which in turn provides insights for further optimization of the wind turbine. The Digital Twin not only provides information about the current energy yield, but also offers a comprehensive overall picture of the condition of each individual turbine.

Improved installation, maintenance and overhaul processes

The information obtained can be used, for example, to optimize maintenance and overhaul processes. For example, the data makes the aging process of components transparent at all times and automatically triggers an alarm if defined limit parameters are exceeded. The Digital Twin also uses the operating, environmental and weather data collected to determine a favorable time for maintenance of the plant. Ideally, this should be carried out when there is little wind, so as not to be at the expense of energy generation.

Both statistical methods and Artificial Intelligence (AI) models are used for the calculations. These methods also help to determine the best time to assemble a wind turbine, since the rotor blades can only be installed under certain conditions. For this purpose, in addition to weather data, additional parameters such as the vibration of the tower are included in the calculations.

Digital Twins for a sustainable industry 

The WIND IO project vividly demonstrates the potential of digitization and especially the concept of the Digital Twin. In addition, companies can use their data to simulate entire production and operating cycles. This makes it possible to minimize resource consumption, reduce energy consumption and at the same time coordinate production steps more effectively and optimize transport routes. Concepts such as the Digital Twin and data-intensive analysis methods are thus essential for a gentle and efficient industry.