In previous columns, we have discussed how a physical system can be simulated by developing an accurate model of the system. This month, we will explore how simulators in industrial applications can increase safety and system uptime.
Regarding the full-motion flight simulator mentioned in last month’s column, the most common use of those systems is training flight crews. These simulators allow pilots to learn how to safely operate equipment in a variety of conditions without putting life or property in jeopardy. The laws of aerodynamics and the aircraft characteristics are programmed into the simulator so it responds to input just as the aircraft would in reality, providing trainees with the ability to safely maneuver, fly and land in nominal conditions and emergency situations—all without leaving the ground.
Simulators are used by aircraft maintenance crews to troubleshoot problems in operating equipment. The maintenance technician can compare the simulator’s results with what the crew is experiencing in the operating aircraft. In many cases, the technician has identified the problem and the maintenance crew is ready with the corrective action by the time the aircraft arrives at the gate. A plane on the ground is money lost. Identifying the problem through simulation can minimize turnaround time, saving maintenance costs and increasing uptime.
Engineers also use simulators to evaluate proposed modifications to a physical aircraft. Because the laws of aerodynamics are embedded in the simulator’s code, engineers can test modifications and trust the results before they are made and flight-tested. If simulating four alternative approaches, only the best option needs to be fully built because it will perform as predicted when manufactured as modeled.
The use of simulation is not limited to aerospace applications. Designers of moving mechanical systems—from assembly robotics to backhoes—use models to accurately simulate motion and momentum of their assemblies using established laws of kinematics and dynamics. They can create and evolve safe, cost-effective designs. In the case of assembly robotics, motion simulation allows for low-cost evaluation of process changes and optimization opportunities.
Piping System Simulator
Piping system simulators offer the same characteristics and benefits. With a piping system’s representative model, operators can safely evaluate how their systems will behave under various conditions, both within normal production limits as well as in situations outside the intended operating range.
This training can help develop appropriate procedures and prepare operators to be aware of overall system behavior in potentially dangerous conditions without exposing personnel or equipment.
Some conditions can be detected well before an emergency occurs. By comparing how the piping system is behaving in real life with the simulation that is based on validated hydraulic principles and device characteristics, end users can spot differences early on. Because fluid dynamics laws do not change, the differences can be attributed only to changes in the system. They can be identified and resolved in a timely and cost-effective manner, avoiding unplanned downtime and increased maintenance costs.
Remember that change is inevitable. An understanding of how a system will behave under varying conditions with the proposed modification simulated allows for significant optimization opportunities and reliable data-driven decisions to maximize benefit and minimize capital expenditures.
Piping systems are designed using well-established engineering standards and procedures. By using the same engineering principles when creating a truly representative piping system model, the simulation can be an excellent training, troubleshooting and engineering tool to increase safety, reduce costs and increase uptime.