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The path to the Digital Twin

The virtual model – the Digital Twin – of entire production systems enables the simulation and analysis of complex IIoT applications. It opens up new possibilities for monitoring the real plant. That is why Balluff has been working on the virtualization of its product portfolio since 2006.

The virtual model – the Digital Twin – of entire production systems enables the simulation and analysis of complex IIoT applications.

A quick click – and the customer can download the CAD model of Balluff sensors. Balluff has been providing free 2D and 3D models (CAD) of its own products since 2006. “That was the first step on the way to the Digital Twin,” recalls Florian Kröner, head of digital transformation and integration at Balluff, who has been involved with the project at Balluff from the beginning. A lot has happened since then. In 2015, product renderings were added, and in 2018, CAE models as well. “This is where we rely on ePLAN. The interface to the engineering software simplifies the digital design process enormously.”

The virtual model

The Digital Twin is becoming increasingly important for the implementation of new IIoT applications. But what is behind the term? The Digital Twin is a virtual model of real objects. It does not matter whether the machine, process or plant already exists in the real world or will only be created in the future. The virtual twin can be used to simulate the functioning of the object within an entire production system.

Advantages in all phases of the product life cycle

This offers advantages in all phases of the product life cycle: Because the product features can be called up in a standardized manner and are always up-to-date, the selection of suitable products becomes easier. Engineers also use the digital models for the design and planning of machines and systems. They can also put the virtual systems through their paces – after all, their virtual commissioning is simulated. In this way, complex simulations become possible simply. And new possibilities also arise for monitoring real plants – another step on the way to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Reliable partnership

“In order for our customers to benefit, we want to provide all relevant product information in digital form throughout the entire product lifecycle,” explains Kröner. Balluff is supported in this by the software company CADENAS. As a partner, CADENAS creates the product data such as CAD, CAE, AML, and renderings that are made available to customers in the digital product catalog. Since 2020, the creation of CAD models is part of the product development process. “Over the years, the customer-supplier relationship has developed into a reliable partnership,” says Kröner in praise of the collaboration.

In order for our customers to reap the benefits, we want to provide all relevant product information in digital form throughout the entire product life cycle.

Florian Kröner, Head of Digital Transformation & Integration at Balluff

Focus on data management

“We are currently focusing on data management,” says Lucijano Horvat, head of product lifecycle management services, describing the current status of the project. “The Balluff electronic product catalog serves as a central platform for managing the product information.” Developers and engineers can access the data via various channels: the Balluff website and platforms established on the market such as the ePLAN portal or the Cadenas Partcommunity. This means that the desired data can be obtained with just one click – always up-to-date and error-free.

As simple as possible

Horvat and his team want to make it as easy as possible for customers to use Balluff products in all phases. “We are not only concerned with the usability of the products on the real machines and systems, but of course also with the virtual availability of our solutions. With the virtual provision of all of our products, the maintenance and updating of information is greatly simplified.” The virtualization of the Balluff portfolio also makes new business models such as pay-per-function or pay-per-use possible.

Cross-departmental collaboration

“To realize the Digital Twin, we work across departments,” says Markus Rentschler, head of system interfaces at Balluff. The Digital Sales department thus takes care of the Balluff website on which customers can obtain models and relevant product data. The Product Lifecycle Management Services department is responsible for the processes, methods, and tools related to product data management. The experts from Software Engineering support it with the implementation of suitable product interfaces and digital product data. Balluff is part of the CADENAS PARTcommunity as well as the ePLAN Data Portal and actively participates in committees such as the ZVEI (German electrical and electronic engineering industry association).

Digital Twin is no longer a buzzword for Balluff.

Markus Rentschler, Head of System Interfaces at Balluff

Including dynamic data

And the next important milestone? “For us, that will be the standardized provision of the digital product models via the Balluff website. This will allow customers to import the data into their target systems without further manual intervention,” explains Rentschler. “This will allow us to massively simplify the implementation of complex simulations.” To increase traceability, variant configuration, and supplier connection are also mapped digitally. In the future, it will not only be possible to retrieve static data, because the simulations will also include dynamic data such as operating time, temperature, and switching operations. This makes it possible to evaluate the data for cause analysis and prevention.

Digital Twin: Not a buzzword

The goal by 2025: A platform on which you can digitally map the entire value chain. This will make the development of new IIoT applications even easier, and insights can be gained directly from field usage. “Digital Twin is no longer a buzzword for Balluff,” says Rentschler. “We are taking further concrete steps every day on our path towards the Digital Twin.”