31 students of Avans University of Applied Sciences participated in the Tunnel Challenge. This is a two-day event during which they need to construct two physical tunnels, including five technical installations. By also offering the installations virtually, the students can realise and test the control virtually before it is connected to the physical installations. Where in the past the Tunnel Challenge only had one physical tunnel, in 2021 INNOCY also added a virtual tunnel for the first time and supervised this new component.
The Tunnel Challenge is a cooperative venture of four parties: Royal HaskoningDHV, supplier of tunnel-technical equipment; Schneider Electric, supplier of the PLC layer (the software-based control); the business unit Water, Infra & Energy of ICT Group, specialised in integration of hard- and software; and INNOCY, which, in addition to integration, also has ample knowledge of the testing of tunnel-technical installations.
Physical and virtual Tunnel Challenge
Arjan Neef is consultant at INNOCY. He says: “The Tunnel Challenge has already been available for a number of years and until Covid-19 it was always exclusively carried out in its physical form. When it was impossible to gather during Covid-19, the idea arose to turn it into a virtual challenge, making use of our Digital Twin of a tunnel. This then became a workshop in the course of which students could set to work with our model in order to thus experiment with the control of the tunnel installations without having to wait for the realisation of the physical components."
In 2021 the physical challenge that had already been available for awhile and the newly devised virtual challenge were combined for the first time. Arjan: “In the virtual domain the students test whether the operating software works well with our tool Transwarp. You can already do this before the tunnel is ready. You can then make adjustments to the software when it becomes apparent that the control is not living up to your expectations. Or of an adjustment is made in the physical design of the tunnel."
Ambitious two-day programme
To already introduce the students to the Digital Twin in advance, they had already participated in two workshops in the course of which they could remotely look at the virtual tunnel and could control the systems in this tunnel. To make this possible, they had also received the documentation in which it is described how these systems must be controlled. That way, both of the groups could immediately set to work during the event.
This preparation was badly needed, because realising and testing five tunnel-technical installations in two days is quite an extensive job. The students slightly underestimated this. They thought: we hang the technical installations in the tunnel, connect the tested software, and Bob's your uncle. However, what they failed to appreciate is that if the control between the physical and virtual tunnel is not kept the same, the software between virtual and physical cannot change. Both groups recognised the stipulated interface as the problem of the other. In addition, one group still made changes that had an impact on this interface. These changes had been realised relatively fast, however the group forgot to communicate this to the group that was testing the operating software. "And then things go wrong if you do not integrate those two", knowns Arjan. This implied that in the end, they did not have it entirely operational."
Plan versus practice
Despite the considerable challenges, the students learnt a lot from it, thinks Arjan: “In practice, changes always take place compared to the plan. The change can be very small, but the impact on the whole extremely considerable. The various teams that cooperate should therefore continuously be in contact with each other. If you properly apply Scrum and play short on the ball then this contact will be realised. However, if you let things run their course a little too much, then things go wrong. This all came to the fore during the Tunnel Challenge. In short, a good preparation for students for what awaits them in practice!"