The magazine of Friedhelm Loh Group

The magazine of Friedhelm Loh Group

Twin one – the automation twin

From twin to data hub

In actual fact, the solution pre-dates the problem. To be precise, it dates back to 1984, when the first ever digital wiring plan was created on a standard PC using Eplan electronic planning software – not in Silicon Valley, but in the German town of Langenfeld, near Düsseldorf. Today, the digital twin is becoming a digital hub in every smart factory.

Text Ulrich Kläsener, Hans-Robert Koch ––– Photography

1. The automation twin

Cover image: Digital continuity and consistency in electrical automation planning – from planning and design through to production and operation.

The first Eplan solution was effectively a pared-down, rather static early form of the digital system twin. Looking back, it’s immediately obvious. The Eplan wiring plan worked rather like the DNA of a new approach to information handling. Nowadays, every smart factory desperately needs the digital twin of panels and switchgear – and thus of all electrical engineering components in the entire system – as a time machine, knowledge store, simulator and central data hub. How it actually gets into the factories and their digital ecosystems, how it grows and is of benefit, is easily explained.

You simply need to follow the value chain – from planning and design, production and operations and through to servicing.

External design offices or the the planning and engineering departments of mechanical and engineering companies normally prepare the wiring schematic, complete with parts list, using Eplan Electric P8 – the ECAD standard. The design team selects the necessary components for the system from the industry’s most extensive product catalogue, the Eplan Data Portal. The job data then goes to the external panel builder and switchgear manufacturer, whose task is to design the 3D model for in-house production using Eplan Pro Panel. Once the switchgear has been manufactured, its virtual representation is also made available in the form of Rittal ePocket, a digital wiring plan pocket.

RITTAL ePocket

“A QR code on the enclosure gives users access to the system documentation, including the digital twin, in the Eplan Cloud,” says Uwe Scharf, Chief Business Unit Officer at Rittal, explaining how the entire process is handled. Sebastian Seitz, CEO of Eplan and Cideon adds that, during manufacturing and when servicing is required, it’s ultimately all about being able to pinpoint the problem as quickly as possible. “If Eplan is used for all the automation and electrical design documentation, I can see straight away what is where. All the linked electrical engineering connections are shown, so the physical location of components in the enclosure or on the machine is clear,” he continues.

This is exactly what large OEMs want. “All machines and systems are documented in a standardised format, which minimises the effort involved in rectifying faults. The wiring plan acts rather like a spelling or grammar book,” says Seitz. The ePocket has the advantage of being a dynamic solution. Information is removed and new details are also added during the switchgear’s lifecycle so that it is always up to date. And that’s not all.

“In IIoT use cases, more and more people are realising that digital machine and system documentation is a key element for putting data from actuators and sensors into context. It all becomes that bit more relevant,” emphasises Seitz. Adding the carbon footprint of components to Rittal ePocket is also on the cards.


The integrative capacity and potential of the digital system twin is enormous, and all stakeholders benefit in their own way – from designers, panel builders and switchgear machine manufacturers through to factory operators and service technicians.

The panel building and switchgear benefits are plain to see. “Once you have created the enclosure in the digital world and know all the dimensions and which components are located where, it’s easy to drill holes in a mounting plate and use automated machining, and also to automate wiring, wire processing and so on,” says Seitz. At this point, Uwe Scharf mentions Rittal's Perforex range of enclosure and switchgear machining centres. “If Eplan is used for switchgear designing, then no further CNC programming is required. That represents a huge saving, as all the data for the CNC program is already available anyway,” he explains.


The Eplan project – a kind of navigable, digital information container – is capable of much more. Seitz offers a glimpse into the future. “In the panel building and switchgear context, machines can also be controlled directly from the virtual twin. This is very exciting when it comes to proactively tackling energy management in manufacturing. There will be an urgent need for this if new paradigms become established. Maximum output can easily become maximum output with minimum energy consumption,” he says. There are good reasons for panel builders and switchgear manufacturers to go all out for digitalization.

System operators, too, benefit from the system twin. Besides helping with maintenance, having all system data available also ensures there is a valuable source of information for networking during the digital process of creating a smart production operation.

  • Connecting ecosystems

    ”The Friedhelm Loh Group is a partner for our customers operating in this world – with Eplan for electrical planning and design, Rittal for systems engineering and machining, and Cideon for the mechanical part of the engineering process,” says Markus Asch, CEO of Rittal. If you also add edge and cloud solutions, which represent the core competence of German Edge Cloud, you get a consistent big picture of the possibilities – the “connecting ecosystems” guiding principle – digitalized and networked ecosystems as a smart factory enabler.

back Part 3: The product twin  

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